On a Saturday in late July or early August each year, about 200 of the Tulsa region's top leaders from a variety of fields -- mayors, city managers, business owners, managers, educators, etc. -- escape the stifling heat outside and convene under the much more agreeable conditions inside a local meeting hall for the Tulsa Metro Chamber of Commerce's annual day-long Regional Legislative Summit.
Seated around several tables, those representatives of Tulsa, Owasso, Jenks, Broken Arrow, Bixby and other local municipalities begin hashing out and drawing up a wish list for their legislative priorities -- both state and federal -- for the upcoming year. That list can include bricks-and-mortar projects -- the construction of a bridge or a convention center -- or it can express support for a bill thought to be business friendly, such as a potential tort reform or workers compensation measure.
It's a process that actually begins in the spring, when smaller task forces assigned to a variety of topics meet to examine issues, according to Lisa Frein, the chamber's communications manager. The summit then brings those task forces together, and chamber members hear about the conclusions they've reached.
Once a preliminary list has been established, the process of paring it down begins. Frein said a number of workshops or brainstorming sessions take place at each table, and much of the discussion centers on how viable each suggestion is. Everyone might agree that a proposal might sound good, but if it has little chance of being supported by state or federal lawmakers, there's no point in pursuing it, she said.
Arvest Bank President and CEO Don Walker, the 2010 chamber chairman, describes the atmosphere as spirited, with members debating the merits of each item with an eye toward compiling two final lists of 10 priorities each -- one for the state level, the other for the federal level.
No arm twisting takes place, he said, explaining it's not the chamber's job to try to talk its members into supporting one proposal over another. It's simply a matter of developing consensus from a broad range of interests in a short amount of time.
"We really develop through somewhat of a democratic process what we should ask for and what we should focus on," Walker said. "The ideas are really diverse and broad, but we try to bring it all together by the end of the day."
Frein said chamber members indicate their preferences on score sheets, with a points system used to determine how much support each proposal has. Those results are tallied, and when the summit adjourns in late afternoon, a preliminary form of those two lists is in place. During the next few months, chamber personnel will send the results back to summit attendees for any possible changes, then refine that feedback into a document called the OneVoice legislative agenda, which is formally released each year in late January or early February, just before the start of the legislative session in Oklahoma City.
"Priorities change annually," said Mike Neal, the chamber's president and chief executive officer, describing the items that might pop up on the agenda. "Some are consistent from year to year, and some might change significantly from year to year."
Even so, every issue the group takes up has some bearing on one of five areas the chamber concerns itself with, according to Neal: trying to retain jobs, grow jobs or attract new jobs; promoting regional advocacy; promoting education; promoting community development, primarily in downtown Tulsa and the Arkanas River corridor; and promoting regional tourism.
Local leaders rave about the legislative summit and the OneVoice agenda which results from it, claiming it yields positive results for the entire region each year. It also marks a dramatic change from the way the Tulsa area used to approach its legislative requests.
The current process emerged only a few years ago, in the wake of the acknowledgement by local leaders that their municipalities long had been unable to present a unified front when it came to presenting their wants and needs to lawmakers. That was especially true in comparison to the Oklahoma City area, which often seemed to collect a disproportionate share of legislative appropriations because it was so good at prioritizing its agenda as a region.
"This is all brand new," Neal said. "It started three and a half years ago. I moved here from Nashville, and I was told by our board of directors that we as a community really didn't have our act together legislatively, and we weren't very focused."
G.T. Bynum, now the District 9 representative to the Tulsa City Council, worked as a staff member for U.S. senators Don Nickles and Tom Coburn in Washington, D.C., earlier this decade. He recalled the frustration of trying to get the Tulsa region to communicate its needs at the federal level in any kind of coordinated way.
"We would have appropriations cycles come through, and Oklahoma City's representatives were up there every other week pushing for their interests," he said. "Tulsa was nowhere to be heard from, even when we called and asked for what they needed. It was so difficult to get feedback on that."
Walker, who had recently relocated to Tulsa and gotten involved with the chamber, said he kept hearing from legislators who bemoaned the area's lack of cohesion.
"They said, 'If you guys would get together and promote some things that would benefit all of you, it would help,'" he said.
That message finally sunk in, Walker said.
"After about the third year, we said, we have got to focus on the things that will help the Tulsa region," he said. "Could we all list our priorities and condense that list to 10 or less, and all of us stick with a single interest for the Tulsa region?"
Neal said the chamber's board of directors made it clear that he was ready for a change in the way the organization did business when he was hired.
"The board decided we needed to be a lot more aggressive, do a lot more advocacy and be a lot more focused, both in Washington, D.C., and Oklahoma City," he said. "That's what we've been."
As a six-year board member, Walker said from his perspective it's difficult to pinpoint exactly when or how that change was instituted, but he credits Neal with bringing a fresh approach to the chamber and expanding the relationships between the communities it represents.
Bynum agreed that there's no question the atmosphere has changed.
"The chamber, under Mike Neal, has been really engaged at the state Capitol and at the U.S. Capitol," he said. "And it's done it in a really smart way, through the OneVoice initiative. Our communities used to go to lawmakers with a laundry list of 30 things. The great thing about the OneVoice initiative is that it brings everyone under one umbrella. We're focused, and we understand what's important for the region."
Walker said the new strategy employed by local leaders was quickly embraced by state lawmakers.
"I had some of them tell me, 'Thank you for not inundating me with 100 issues. This is something I can get my arms around,'" he said.
He also regards the shift in philosophy as a great success.
"We don't win on all those issues every year," he said. "But if we come home with one or two wins, all of us feel like it was time well spent. The other thing it does is build rapport and support for one another's issues. We've all realized it's good for everyone."
Serving Some, But Not All
Sitting atop the chamber's state legislative agenda this year is completion of the Gilcrease Expressway, the roadway running on the west and north sides of Tulsa that has been planned since 1961 and is viewed as an important part of the city's outer loop.
"We feel it would do a tremendous amount toward stimulating development in west and northwest Tulsa and the Sand Springs area. It would result in significant improvements in public safety in the Sand Springs area," Neal said, explaining that the State Highway 97 bridge is now the only Arkansas River crossing along a 14-mile stretch in that area from the Lake Keystone Dam to U.S. 75.
The project involves the completion of the roadway between Interstate 44 and the L.L. Tisdale Expressway, an approximate 10-mile section. State Capital Improvement Program funds were allocated for the project in the late 1990s by the Legislature to acquire a significant portion of the needed right of way, and Neal emphasizes that completion of the expressway would demonstrate a logical follow-through on the state's commitment.
Chamber officials said the project's benefits are numerous, claiming it would provide access for potential growth in northwest Tulsa, as well as providing improved connections from manufacturing centers in Sand Springs, Sapulpa and west Tulsa to the Port of Catoosa northeast of the city.
Additionally, they said the project would provide western Oklahoma and Kansas improved access to shipping for agricultural products from the Port of Catoosa, along with relieving congestion and capacity concerns along the Interstate 44 and Interstate 244 bridges over the Arkansas River.
Completing the expressway would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, which is why the primary means being explored for paying for the project is building it as a toll road. A measure authorizing a feasibility study for completion of the roadway, authored by House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, has been approved by the state House of Representatives.
Neal believes the Gilcrease Expressway completion has the support of a remarkably high percentage of local leaders and residents, making it the obvious choice to lead the OneVoice agenda for this year. Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. has expressed his strong support for the project on several occasions, as have other area leaders, and Neal pointed to a public hearing on the subject held at Chandler Park in January that was attended by approximately 200 people.
"All but two were in favor of the project," he said. "I've been going to highway and pubic transportation hearings for the last 30 years. Never have I been to a public meeting of this sort where everybody's in favor of a project. And there is enormous, broad public support for this project."
Neal said there wasn't much disagreement by chamber members at the legislative summit on making the Gilcrease Expressway their No. 1 priority. On the surface, it might seem hard to understand why a City Council member in Broken Arrow or a businessman from Bixby would choose to endorse an effort to fund a road project on the far side of Tulsa, but Walker said that's not the case.
"That's like saying Broken Arrow doesn't understand the river is an important issue," he said. "We're all independent units, but we need each other to be successful ... We're starting to see ourselves as the region we are."
Neal said the completion of the expressway is not something that came out of the blue. Area leaders have wanted to get it done for many years, he said.
"This has been a project that's been on our list for a long time, but it's never made it to the top priority before," Neal said. "Of course, everyone has enormous concerns this year because of the state and local budget concerns we're dealing with."
Bartlett isn't alone among city leaders who have endorsed the project. City Councilor Rick Westcott of District 2 believes completion of the expressway would be a boon to the area, and he's hoping the fact that the chamber has thrown its weight behind the proposal will finally lead to results.
"Any support we get for the Gilcrease Expressway is valuable and appreciated," he said. "The Gilcrease Expressway extension will not go through much of the city of Tulsa -- most of it is in Tulsa County and not through the city itself -- but it will benefit the city of Tulsa, as well as Sand Springs and the region as a whole ... I'm very much appreciative of the chamber's support on this issue."
A Few Questions Unanswered
Not everyone is as enthusiastic about the project. Local developer Jamie Jamieson, a longtime chamber member who helped create the Village at Central Park housing development just east of downtown, questions whether completion of the expressway would have the impact its backers said it would.
Jamieson said he's concerned that the chamber and local leaders haven't presented any hard data to back up their contention that the project would provide an economic boost to the region. He believes it's more likely the project would simply open up new territory for sprawl, and he questions whether that's really what Bartlett, in particular, has in mind.
"It's possible he sees it as just an old-fashioned real estate bonanza, something that would lead to more low-density real estate development," Jamieson said. "I'm worried he hasn't put two and two together and doesn't see where we need to be going, which is toward a more compact and dense community.
"I'm worried he's still living in the '60s in the age of suburban sprawl."
Jamieson said he is concerned that completion of the expressway could siphon off funding that could go to other projects that would benefit the city in a more substantial way. He pointed to the possibility that even if federal or state funds could be acquired, the city might be responsible for supplying matching funds of 20 or 25 percent.
"That money is, in a sense, competing with other of Tulsa's priorities," he said. "That raises the question of what are our priorities, and how do we measure the return on our investment? I've not heard anybody justify this project in those terms, just this vague rationale about 'We've got to finish it.' "
In light of the financial predicament the city finds itself in these days, Jamieson said, it's more important than ever that Tulsa be sure about the economic benefits of such an expensive project.
"When we invest our scarce money, we better look for a return," he said. "When you compare the Gilcrease Expressway with fixing every sidewalk in the city or creating pocket parks or fixing downtown, they've got to be compared for their return, their strategic return, on investment. And we've got to make this city more attractive to educated, bright, young people. So we've got to evaluate these things in a strategic and quantitative hard-nosed way."
Jamieson also questions who would stand to benefit most from completion of the expressway, wondering if real estate agents and home builders -- he pictures them with visions of new subdivisions dancing in their heads -- wouldn't fall into that category.
"We've got fewer and fewer tax dollars to play with, and we can't have people doing back-room deals," he said, explaining that he sees the land adjacent to the new roadway shooting up in value. "I think it makes sense to look at who owns the tracts on land on either side of it."
Jamieson argues that the mere age of the Gilcrease Expressway proposal doesn't mean it's a worthwhile project.
"That isn't a reason for finishing it," he said. "There were a lot of bad ideas from the '60s. The (Inner Dispersal Loop), for instance, is an absolute catastrophe, and it has blighted hundreds of acres around downtown."
The Blame Game
Such differences over chamber priorities are nothing new. Earlier this decade, for instance, a few members of the Tulsa City Council found themselves at odds with a handful of members of the chamber's leadership over several issues, namely their unwillingness to support the proposed extension of water lines to outlying communities.
Viewed as the leaders of that group -- dubbed the "Gang of Five" for the voting bloc they represented on the council -- were Chris Medlock and Jim Mautino. Medlock, who mounted an unsuccessful campaign for the Republican nomination for mayor against Bartlett last summer, was particularly outspoken and remains so to this day.
"I just think the people who get involved in the chamber, to a high degree, are often portrayed as a guy who has given his time to the city," he said, who now runs his own business. "But a lot of times, pushing that chamber agenda is what's best for their own business plan. The chamber's agenda isn't necessarily the city's agenda -- or shouldn't be."
Medlock and Mautino were painted by opponents as anti-development during that 2005 episode, a charge Medlock still bristles at today.
"I'm a pro-business kind of guy," he said.
And Mautino didn't care for that "Gang of Five" tag.
"We were called a gang," he said. "But we were the majority, and we were trying to fix things."
Mautino said his differences with certain members of the chamber had to do with the fact that he believed supporting a number of regional programs the chamber espoused -- the water lines expansion and the Four to Fix program, to name a few -- were actually bad for Tulsa, which was losing more and more of its sales tax revenue to its booming suburbs each year.
"When Broken Arrow, Owasso and Jenks were bedroom communities and their people came to Tulsa to shop, that was great for Tulsa," he said. "Then we ran water lines out there to help promote development, and now we have sales tax problems. We're having a tough time because they're so good."
Once national retailers started moving into those bedroom communities, their residents quit shopping in Tulsa, Mautino said, and that is a big part of why the city is struggling to make ends meet today. Mautino eventually came to view those suburban communities with a wary eye.
"We were supporting them a lot like teenage kids who are still living at home," he said. "I wanted to say to them, 'You're grown up, now give us a break. You're no longer a bedroom community helping us, you're now an aggressive and competent competitor.' "
Mautino emphasized he has nothing against those communities, but he believes he needed to look out for Tulsa's interests. That often placed him in an adversarial position with the chamber, he said, which was very protective of the regional concept.
The situation essentially came to a head, Mautino said, when Medlock proposed that the city revive its economic development committee and fund it with $200,000 from a portion of its hotel/motel tax that was going to the chamber's Convention and Tourism Bureau.
"Chris felt like if we gave that to the economic development committee, we should see what they could do with it," Mautino said, explaining that then-chamber chairman Bob Poe seemed to take the proposal as a threat to his group.
Mautino said he responded by saying, "No, Mr. Poe, I'm just trying to get $200,000 to see what this committee could do with it. I got aggressive and testy."
Poe argued the $200,000 was "seed corn" for the chamber, part of its effort to promote and grow the regional economy, its No. 1 priority.
"I answered Mr. Poe by saying, 'I come from seed corn country in upstate New York, and you're planting it in the wrong place. You need to plant it in Tulsa. I'm one of the councilors who wants to take all the (hotel/motel tax) money.'"
Medlock and Mautino eventually became the targets of a recall campaign that sought to have them removed from office. A group called the Coalition for Responsible Government led the effort and was largely bankrolled by Poe and others with strong ties to the chamber.
"Some of the members of the chamber were instrumental in carrying that out ... It was essentially the members of the chamber who organized to do this because we were threatening the chamber," Mautino said.
Both councilors survived the recall effort, but Mautino lost his subsequent re-election bid, while Medlock was unsuccessful in challenging incumbent Bill LaFortune for the Republican nomination for mayor.
Mautino regained his seat in last fall's municipal elections and maintains his second stint on the council won't be marked by as much acrimony, though he intends on sticking by his principles.
"I'm trying to be less confrontational this time," he said. "There's never a situation you'll find yourself in that you didn't help create. So I'm trying to be more diplomatic in how I do things. It was an awakening for me."
Mautino said he had a long discussion with Neal after the first council meeting following his election in December, and both men indicated their desire to avoid a repeat of the previous situation.
"He said, 'Tell me what we could do to help you,'" Mautino said. "I said, 'The biggest help I could get from you is for you to stop hiding in the weeds and shooting arrows in me because I've got to pull 'em out of me every time I sit down.' "
Neal later joined Mautino on a tour of his District 6, and the two reached an understanding of sorts.
"It's not that we see eye to eye, but at least he knows where I'm coming from, and I know where he's coming from," Mautino said.
Mautino's wish list for his district is pretty straightforward: more shopping centers, more grocery stores and an Interstate 44 on/off ramp at 145th East Avenue.
"I hope (the chamber) can help us get that done with (the state Department of Transportation)," Mautino said. "If we have time to present our ideas to them, that's all I want.
"That didn't happen when I was on the council before," he said. "But I don't feel like it's a waste of time this time. Mayor Bartlett is more receptive, and Mike Neal is more receptive. He at least sits down and listens. To me, it's a lot friendlier organization."
Medlock, apparently, has not had a similar change of heart. During his unsuccessful campaign against Bartlett last summer, he sounded many of the same themes he did during his council days, again putting himself at odds with a number of chamber-supported ideas.
"They're big pushers of downtown initiatives," Medlock said of the chamber. "But right now, the key to the future of the city of Tulsa lies more on the outskirts of the city, which is the only place we're going to get more sales tax dollars.
"We've got to get shopping centers on the fringes. The city needs to be pushing for the building of commercial districts within the city limits by the Cherokee Casino and in the north Tulsa corridor. Downtown is just not bringing in incremental tax dollars. Downtown revitalization is just good for the image of the city and downtown business interests -- and for chamber members who want to pursue their own agenda."
Medlock finds even more fault with the chamber over state legislative issues. As a conservative, he's not pleased by the organization's lack of aggressiveness on the issue of illegal immigration reform.
"There are a lot of conservatives who are pretty irritated with them on a myriad of issues," he said.
Medlock periodically likes to wheel out a sneering description of the chamber, a phrase that likely was a favorite of his listeners during his days as a radio talk show host.
"They're a Democrat center with a Republican candy shell," he said. "They're trying to push themselves as conservatives, but they're not."
Medlock wants to see surrounding communities pony up a greater percentage of funding to support the chamber, while Tulsa puts more of its hotel/motel tax -- 34 percent of which goes to the chamber's convention and visitors bureau each year, or approximately $1.9 million for the current fiscal year -- to other uses.
"They're getting free services that are basically supported by the city of Tulsa," he said. "Imagine what that money could be doing for public safety here."
Looking for Common Ground
Chamber officials are well aware of such criticisms, but they said their role is to approach things from a regional perspective, rather than pursuing the agenda of any particular member community -- even one as large as Tulsa. For a reflection of that philosophy, one need look no further than the organization's name.
"That's the key to understanding this issue," Westcott said. "It's the Metro Chamber of Commerce, and they have to keep the interests of other cities besides the city of Tulsa. That's the key to understanding what they do.
"If Tulsa wants its own chamber, if the businesses here decide they want their own, that's fine, I'll help support that," he said. "But right now, it's the Metro Chamber of Commerce, and they have a duty to represent the whole region."
The regional chamber of commerce approach is certainly not a novel one. A quick look at other major cities in the area reveals that all of them have chambers that represent the entire metropolitan area, rather than just the largest city, including the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, the Dallas Regional Chamber, the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce and the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce.
In fact, one would be hard pressed to find a chamber of commerce in a major city anywhere in America that hasn't adopted the regional approach, perhaps a sign that such organizations have almost universally come to recognize the benefits of promoting a common agenda -- and a demonstration of the ineffectiveness of trying to go it alone.
Walker has chosen to make that cooperative approach the hallmark of his chairmanship since taking over earlier this year.
"My personal interest in 2010 is to develop better relationships between all of our cities and county government because we will all be much better off when we see ourselves as a region instead of independent players," he said.
Neal said when the chamber is trying to lure a business to the region, it tries to convince its members they should be pleased if that firm lands anywhere in northeast Oklahoma.
"We're a huge believer in regionalism," he said. "We have great partnerships with every chamber of commerce in northeast Oklahoma. We are partners, and none of us can be successful on our own. I have a huge belief there is strength in numbers, and the bigger we can draw this circle in northeast Oklahoma, the more strength we can have."
That message might be better received today than it was just a few years ago, but relationships between the various communities the chamber represents still have their tensions. Although, Mautino and Medlock have had their complaints about the chamber's advocacy for other cities in the region, Walker said he often has to battle the notion by residents of those communities that the chamber is too Tulsa-centric in its activities.
"I have been trying to dispel that comment," he said. "Since there was a Tulsa Chamber at one point, it's very difficult to change your color and say we are truly inclusive of the region. But there's now a true sense of a regional chamber. Yes, we will bump heads with other communities sometimes, but all our members support each other."
Walker believes his personal situation reflects that of many chamber members -- the business he runs, Arvest Bank, is based in Tulsa, but it has branches throughout the region. And so the concerns of those communities are his, as well, he said.
"Even though Tulsa is the largest of the communities, I will assure you we do not focus just on the city of Tulsa and its needs," he said. "We look at the needs and opportunities in the entire region."
Chamber officials cite their work on a number of projects inside and outside city limits as evidence of the organization's effectiveness throughout the years, including creation of the Turner Turnpike and Port of Catoosa. In more recent times, they count the chamber's efforts to save the Oklahoma State University Medical Center, its work to help secure $25 million in federal funding for Arkansas River improvements and its support of the Vision 2025 package among its success stories.
On the minus side, Mautino points to the chamber's role in the Great Plains Airlines debacle -- the city ultimately agreed to pay $7.1 million to settle a lawsuit resulting from the airline's bankruptcy -- as an example of how the organization has gone wrong.
He insists he doesn't mean the term derisively, but he thinks of the chamber as essentially a businessman's union. Having been a longtime union member himself as an employee of American Airlines, Mautino said, he knows how they operate.
"They do the same thing as a union," he said. "Their job is promote their agenda and look after the well-being of their members. Generally, what the chamber does is it gives them a political arm where they can negotiate things with the council and the mayor just like the other unions do, but they're called a chamber of commerce."
Neal quickly dismissed Mautino's categorization of his organization, which employs about 50 people and operates on an annual budget of $9.6 million -- a total split almost evenly between membership dues, contracts and partnerships, sponsorships and economic development.
"We're not a union," he said. "We're a business organization. I don't apologize for that. We've got nearly 3,000 members. We're not a neighborhood organization, we're not a civic club. We're a business organization, and we try to look at things through the lens of business people."
The chamber doesn't try to be all things to all people, Neal emphasized.
"We want to do a few things exceptionally well and be world class in a few things," he said. "We're not in the parade business, we're not in the changing streetlights business. We're in the commerce business, and we're trying to sustain the local and regional economy in trying times. Most of what we do is centered around jobs."
Walker also takes a different view of the chamber than Mautino.
"A chamber is a group of independent volunteers who work together for the benefit of the region," he said. "Yes, we sometimes have to push things that are important to businesses that might be different than what a council or that councilor's constituents might think. But businesses are an important part of the economy, and the chamber is a group of volunteers who pay their own way. We try to stay on a reasonable path where businesses can grow and prosper."
Bynum is a strong supporter of the chamber, categorizing it as the city of Tulsa's economic development arm. He said he witnessed its effectiveness personally while working for the Williams & Williams Worldwide Real Estate Auction a few years ago.
"We were bringing people in to interview for jobs every week from all over the country," he said. "And the resources the chamber gave us in terms of relocation information was really, really useful. That's not to say they don't have their critics, because I know there are plenty of people who say we ought to have our own Tulsa chamber. If I felt like they weren't doing a great job and I felt like we needed someone watching over them, I'd support that.
"But I don't know what we're missing out on in having a metro chamber," he said. "I've yet to see it, and I've worked with chambers all over Oklahoma."
Chamber officials appear before the Tulsa City Council on a quarterly basis, issuing a report and answering questions from councilors about their economic development efforts and what the city is getting for its money. Those sessions were often contentious during 2005, though they seem much less so today.
Westcott didn't join the council until after the recall efforts for Mautino and Medlock ended, but he said no one on the council wants to see a repeat of that episode.
"We started from scratch," he said of the council's relationship with the chamber in the wake of the 2006 elections. "That was to our benefit. Everyone was aware of that history.
"We wanted a change," he said. "We wanted to make things better for the citizens of Tulsa, for the business owners of Tulsa ... We've not always agreed, and we don't march in lockstep, but we've worked well together and kept the larger goal in mind."
Walker said the chamber is exploring the possibility of hiring a staff member specifically to recruit firms to downtown Tulsa in an attempt to help fill some of the vacant office space that exists.
"The chamber has an agenda at work to use private funds to promote downtown throughout the United States," he said. "We'd like to bring in companies that like a downtown, urban setting. We think we could add jobs in existing facilities and help fill the residential space downtown."
He indicated software development companies would be the likely targets of such an effort.
"These are companies that may have 10 or so employees in another part of this region," Walker said. "An urban setting suits them very well because they have a lot of people to pick from and good secondary education facilities. We want to find some of those companies and bring them to a downtown setting."
That action is likely to attract the attention of Westcott, who said he wants to see chamber officials take a more aggressive approach to recruiting.
"Sometimes, I would like to see more of an effort to go out and visit out-of-state businesses and bring those to Tulsa," Westcott said. "This may just be my perception, but it seems like a lot of new business that comes to Tulsa is a result of serendipity happening and is not a result of the chamber actively going after them. I don't mean to minimize what they do, but sometimes I wish they had more of an out-of-state presence."
Even so, Westcott acknowledged he was not sure if he had ever conveyed that particular dissatisfaction to chamber officials. For the most part, he believes the chamber's agenda and the city's agenda are the same.
"I think it's pretty close," he said. "Very few issues affect only one or two municipalities around here. Our economies are so closely tied together, I think it would be difficult to find any substantive issues that don't affect everybody."
That's the belief Walker hopes to leave chamber members with by the time he rotates out of the chairman's position at the end of this year.
"I think we will be light years ahead of our competition when we realize we're not competing against Owasso or Bixby or Jenks, we're competing with Wichita or Little Rock, Ark.," Walker said. "If we think any one of our municipalities by itself can win in a jobs race, I think we're kidding ourselves."
It's all part of the larger effort to improve the quality of life for people in northeast Oklahoma, he said.
"We're trying to make Tulsa a better place to live, work and play, and I truly believe that," he said. "Our chamber has focused on creating jobs, building the economy and providing all the things a community needs to grow and prosper."
Share this article: