We are obviously a market-driven town, but our new PLANiTULSA/comprehensive plan?? is a very much-needed roadmap for Tulsa. The new plan is a soft machine for ratcheting up the city's competitive prospects, radically updating our DNA for working and reworking our built environment, our community's look and feel and the character of housing, transportation, neighborhoods and commerce.
And with some of the incentive tools in the plan, Tulsa could also be a sparking gizmo for the re-jiggering of growth between older areas and the city's edge that equity, logical use of public assets and land economics demands.
I was going to write a follow-up piece about crucial parts of Tulsa's new comprehensive plan this week; there are a heap of huge departures from Tulsa as we have known it at the core of the plan.
As part of my prep work, I called John Fregonese, the principal at Fregonese Associates -- an Oregon-based planning and consulting firm?? -- and one of the intellectual leaders of Tulsa's new plan. I was stuck by how much Fregonese talked about the signal importance of an extremely robust local economy to the new plan's execution and Tulsa's employment/development prospects -- something lots of us having been thinking about in light of this week's dismal national economic news.
For this column, I've focused on economic development and the way forward for Tulsa this time. I'll pick up on key features of the new comprehensive plan and signal elements that define it next week.
There has much discussion lately about America's declining economic fortunes -- a lot of the conversation could easily be about kick-starter strategies for Tulsa.
Nathan Myhrvold, the former chief technology officer at Microsoft, talked recently about America's past as a scraggly, wildcard player in the early 19th century.
Myhrvold, a polymath of the first order -- a particle physicist, hi-tech chef, paleontologist and energy entrepreneur -- appeared last week on Fareed Zakaria's CNN show GPS. Myhrvold summoned a little half-forgotten history: a 19th-century economic landscape when America was an agricultural enclave -- we were a run-of-the-mill developing country much likes Brazil is today. Audacious use of government funds for railroads, telegraph lines, canals, harbors, shipyards, barge facilities, roads and a bold conception of the way forward allowed America to leapfrog more obvious contenders to become a leading heavy industrial power.
This happened, from an historical vantage, in the wink of an eye. My point: Tulsa could leapfrog our competition by a careful reimagining of what needs to be done economically. What's needed is a breakout gambit -- a game-changing effort to push our private players, the public square our universities and our huge and adventurous philanthropic community on to an unimagined trajectory.
Tulsa's Future: A Modest Proposal
Tulsa is obviously not a developing country or a new city, but we are competing, like it or not, with places like Chicago, San Francisco and Austin, Texas.
Elected officials and some people in the business community tend to talk about Tulsa as though we were a sports team competing only with other franchises in a carefully calibrated weight class.
This is lunacy.
We are also battling it out with the Shanghais and Londons for intellectual and management resources, venture capital, start-up firms and for our own sons and daughters -- bright, young Tulsans who increasingly have an entire planet of opportunities.
Part of the mid-run economic future for Tulsa, no doubt, will come from savvy private decisions and the normal interplay of markets and global dynamics.
But some of us believe that these comforting assumptions and the Metro Chamber's existing efforts are not enough. Imagine using aggressive public/private partnerships and extraordinary public funding to do "accelerator" projects. We've done something like this on a big time basis before -- once on a contingent basis for behemoth Boeing ($350 million approved by voters here and never used) and once for American Airlines via the Vision 2025 program.
Interestingly enough, voters also approved $30 million, via the same Vision 2025 program, to set up the Helmerich Research Center at OSU-Tulsa, which targets advanced materials -- think super strong, extremely light glass and ceramic composites that can substitute for metals -- the biosystems industry, new energy technologies and novel control systems.
The center combines an aggressive industry-linked graduate program with an intriguing array of university/company projects. New start-up companies, unexpected boosts to existing firms in these domains and new employment will surely spring from this sweet effort.
In many, many ways the Helmerich Project is a sentinel -- one that we should replicate and extend -- to other Helmerich-like efforts. Other pacesetter ventures might spawn the new folks, the supporting economic activity and the housing demand needed to fully execute PLANiTULSA.
What I'm imagining is a sort of revolving loan and equity accelerator fund -- a fund that would be overseen by a public body but managed by a supremely talented venture capital/investment bank crew recruited via a rigorous, competitive process.
This new "Tulsa Catapult" would select and fund projects submitted by existing local firms, high promise start-up ventures and big impact joint ventures, crafted by university and foundation partnerships with private companies.
Excitingly: the current Vision 2025 program expires in 2016 --part of a newly voter authorized "2025" extension could fund this effort.
Catapult funding could also subsidize projects submitted by outsiders, provided that their ventures relocated to Green Country. Catapult managers could also hookup with private investors, the State Commerce Department, the Metro Chamber's "futures" fund and others on promising projects.
While some will complain that this initiative sounds suspiciously "statist," it is a lot more grounded than trying to hand off $350 million to Boeing, which Tulsans said agreed to in large numbers in 2003. Why not tend to our own "garden" aggressively, with an energetic strategy and transformative toolkit?
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