Ronald Reagan was right. Jobs are the best social program a community can provide its residents. The continued growth and expansion of prosperity for Tulsa in 2013 comes first and foremost at the doorstep of every business in Tulsa. Business, not government, is the foundation of our future. Government's best service is in supporting businesses to prosper and grow. What city government began in 2012 may not be highly visible to the average citizen. But to businesses here and those looking to come here, the City of Tulsa's attitude and philosophy is now one of building the entrepreneurial city.
In a very real sense, everything the city government, chamber of commerce, and the community focus upon can be tied to economic development and stability. Good schools and an educated workforce can attract employers. Low crime rates and lower business costs keep families and businesses from moving away. Low tax rates, pro-business development policies, and affordable housing are strong factors in a business' decision on where to locate. With that, it is also important that the city continuously direct its resources on the important quality of life attributes such as a quality park system, a well managed airport, dependable utility services, sustainable arts and culture amenities, and to encourage healthy living.
Over the years, the focus of economic development has changed. At one time it was all about more smoke stacks in town. Then it was luring high tech companies to the city. This was followed by the idea of "clustering" similar businesses together. Today, the evolution of economic development has evolved into what could be termed "economic development gardening," where the focus is on growing, nurturing, and expanding the business assets which already exist in Tulsa. It's here that city government plays a key role.
To reform and transform city government into the entrepreneurial city which prioritizes economic development, there were several significant achievements in 2012 that every citizen and business should be aware of.
Knowing Our Competitive Advantages. Having a true economic development strategy is more than following the fad or being a copy cat city, or relying solely on the state or federal government to figure it out for us. Tulsa must know its strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities when competing with our peer cities in the attraction of new business and to keep our current businesses from leaving. Learning how Tulsa stacks up against our competition and then focusing policy decisions and resource allocations to strengthen our weakness is essential to success. This past year the City of Tulsa and the University of Tulsa partnered to assess 17 economic development factors and how Tulsa compares with its 10 peer cities in our region. With this benchmarking, the city has been repurposing its policies and resources in order to strengthen our weaknesses.
Creating a Business-Friendly Attitude in City Hall. Bureaucracy, regulations, and red tape can be like a disease to a company trying to do business in Tulsa. Too often business leaders are forced to follow bureaucratic servants. This is bass ackward. Bureaucracy is to follow, not make unnecessary demands which inhibit businesses from growing or relocating. With city regulations appearing to business developers to be a vast and bottomless pit, something had to be done to rescue those stuck doing business with city government. Following a series of community meetings with business leaders, a business liaison/ombudsman position was created. Acting like a trouble shooter, the mayor empowered this position to cut red tape, unclog the bureaucracy, and, if needed, to report situations to the mayor who can and will help business development get moving.
Building on our Oil and Gas Legacy. We all know that Tulsa was built on the oil and gas industry. Over the years, other industries seemed to have pushed that legacy off the economic development radar. As important as jobs in the health care, aerospace, and education fields may be, they all stand on the shoulders of the oil and gas industry. Bringing this back to the forefront, the mayor and the University of Tulsa developed the Second Century Energy Initiative which supports the Energy Policy Institute at TU. The mayor also put a highly experienced oil and gas executive in a leadership role to support the mayor's efforts on future opportunities for traditional and alternative energy sources, job development, and city government support for the hundreds of businesses and thousands of energy jobs in Tulsa.
Doing the Basics Well. Managing a city by providing efficient service with fewer resources is the challenge facing city leaders across America. At the end of the day, citizens expect the basics to be done well. And they are. For the first time in years the strength of the police and fire departments is at or near full staffing levels. Parks are being repurposed. Streets are being repaired. Water and sewer services are second to none for cities the size of Tulsa. The airport, zoo, and museums are under constant upgrades and improvements. When citizens have confidence that the city is headed in the right direction under a plan which produces good management results, then optimism and confidence from the citizens will follow. The best proof is the billions of dollars of private investment being seen all over Tulsa.
Listening to the Citizens. No amount of concrete, no number of police officers, and no amount of spending can create a city that works if its citizens are not actively involved in the decision making process. In 2012, the city undertook to implement the results from the first citywide survey of citizens and started the City Hall in Your Neighborhood program, both of which gave the people an opportunity to be part of determining their city's future. City Hall listened and citizens are more engaged than before.
All of these entrepreneurial innovations have produced a transformation that other cities would envy. Unemployment is steady or decreasing, over 14,000 new jobs have been created, millions of dollars of capital improvements are underway, public safety and public property are better managed, and private investment is at an all time high.
As Winston Churchill said, "The further backward you can look the further forward you can see." All we have to do is look back no further than 2012 to know that we should be optimistic about the outlook of our economic development in 2013.
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