The Tulsa Metro Chamber of Commerce is one of the most well-financed, and visible local business confederations in America. And excepting the strange hybrid party/state enterprise confabs managed by the Chinese Red Army, it may be one of the top outfits of its kind on the planet. This year, the 3,100-member Tulsa business association/service confederation was awarded the national "best" Chamber of Commerce award-.
And it's not the first time that it's won or been near the top of these listings, and leadership is material: Chamber CEO Mike Neal is clearly an extremely talented dude.
But, there's a lot of free-floating anxiety and strangeness hooked up with how Tulsans think about the Metro Chamber.
Some people assume it has enormous power over virtually everything in sight including alarming heft in local democracy/politics, outsized influence in T-town economic futures, and big sway in the state of play in downtown Tulsa. Many folks in North Tulsa, in the west, working people all across town and a cadre of nominally progressive folks imagine that the Metro Chamber is their sworn enemy.
A host of folks clearly see the Chamber as a bulwark of monied exclusivity, unrivaled influence and enormous privilege. The rise of the Occupy/Inequality movement nationally has exacerbated this perception. Some of these notions are rooted in rough truths and encounters: others are fevered exaggerations that have no connection to any current reality.
Some of these notions aren't consistent with a rapidly evolving organization that is making a real effort to be more inclusive while maintaining its traditional responsibilities. Dr. Gerard Clancy's tenure this past year as Chamber Chair--he is a visionary academic/medical professional with a passion for diversity, inclusive economics and empowering creativity--may have been a breakthrough of the first magnitude for the Chamber and for Tulsa.
This month the Tulsa Chamber, for the first time in 12 years, elected a woman chair to it's voluntary chair position: Ms. Becky Frank, a powerful communications and PR executive.
Frank, the CEO/Chair of Schnake Turnbo Frank, long Tulsa's most venerable PR and communications consulting firm, is a marketing/relationship strategist without peer. She is a strikingly charismatic and direct woman who is every centimeter the communications maven.
She told this writer that her first order of business for the Chamber would be harvesting the enormous work invested in putting together regional compacts with cities, towns and smaller Chambers throughout the area: this, she said, would then allow "Metro" to move ahead on an ambitious, area wide economic agenda.
When asked about the state of play in the Chamber's multipart talks on the American Airlines bankruptcy crisis, she said that the Chamber's relationship with all the key parties were solid--and that maintaining and strengthening these kinds of relationships was at the core of her own personal expertise. She said she fully expected to get a good result with these very difficult negotiations: Neal was working on a day-to-day basis with American Airlines management, Tulsa's aerospace unions, the supplier community etc., she reported. She also talked about another key priority: a rededication to river development.
A "Multi-polar" Metro
Part of the dramatically new landscape for the region is what foreign policy folks would call a "multi-polar" space. That is, an economic, social and political scene where there are many active players with power, resources and compelling agendas that have only a partial nexus to Chamber projects or historic scope.
District associations like the Brady and Blue Dome compacts, the emerging Pearl district group and longer standing affinity outfits, like the Greenwood and Southwest Chamber of Commerce's, play real roles in shaping development and the pace of change in their circumscribed, but increasingly material spheres of influence.
Then there are newer entities, including developmental co-ops and hybrid interest/advocacy posses like Tulsa's Food Security/Health Foods confed and narrower focus, but no less important outfits like Oklahoma's Aerospace Alliance. There are also fresh development ops like the Oklahoma Innovation Institute (OII)--a high profile industry/philanthropic/university posse crafting an "all in" academic/small business plan to improve Tulsa's success in securing pilot funds and big dollars from the National Science Foundation and other highly competitive R&D sources.
OII is also driving Tulsa's critical effort to secure a supercomputing center--a next-generation "infrastructure" asset that could drive economic activity in a huge range of ventures and red hot economic segments in the region.
In 2011 if you want to get an out-of-the-box project under way, there are a host of "champions," as Spirit Bank development chief, Tulsan Royce Kelly calls them, that can assist in meaningful ways. The Metro Chamber is no longer the only heavy player.
The Chamber is regarded rightfully as an 800-pound gorilla on local economics/business development, local/state politics, and on other matters--. The Chamber is seen as a cabal that frequently gets its way.
In our most recent City Council elections, the Chamber provided funding for insurgent candidates who successfully defeated every incumbent council member that sought reelection, except for counselors Jack Henderson and G.T. Bynum. The Chamber organized a local political action committee for the first time this past fall: It has been a long been an aggressive participant in city bond/sales tax and other voter propositions as an advocate and a fund raiser, and has a hard to ignore state legislative agenda that could be described as contentious: but direct action, as a local player in City/Council elections is new.
While Chamber funding wasn't the only thing of consequence in the races -- we'd undergone two years of Mayor/Council discord that left a pretty toxic taste in the mouth of Tulsa voters -- the Chamber's presence was felt in a way that hadn't been evident before.
Here is part of what UTW'S Jennie Lloyd wrote in the September 2010 run up to the council contests:
"One political action committee, TulsaBizPac, is putting money into candidates' pockets rather than draining them. The Tulsa Metro Chamber formed the TulsaBizPac, came up with an 11-point platform of key issues and interviewed the candidates for like-minded potential councilors."
The piece went on to note that for some time Chamber leaders wished to increase political involvement through the establishment of a PAC. The November city council election was the first opportunity to employ the Chamber PAC and it looks as though the program will continue through future city and county elections, including the mayoral race.
But the job of the Chamber's influence is more complicated. Interestingly, during his just ended yearlong tenure as voluntary board chair Dr. Clancy was effective, in the view of keen observers, at moderating the Chamber's traditional, sometimes reactive stance on the interplay between politics and business development in Tulsa.
Arguably, the reality is that the Chamber has always shared the scene with City Hall and the Mayor's Office, a powerful and diverse builder/development community, and a passel of strong Tulsa neighborhood associations.
And there is a potent new kid on the block: the George Kaiser Family Foundation, a philanthropic leviathan that is an increasing deep shaper of public education, healthcare and next stage community development in Tulsa.
Economic Development: Dream Weaving
Since the late '70s, the Metro Chamber and the City of Tulsa have engaged in subtle battles over economic development supremacy: much of the fracas has been mild and the bulk of the efforts across the two institutions has been quite cooperative--but there have been small wars. Economic development is a signal part of the way ahead for Tulsa--it is all about how we pursue job creation, what economic and industrial sectors we privilege (if any) in those efforts, and who should lead the charge.
Economic development in Tulsa is also about who should have the critical staffing and the final say on attempts to attract new firms, and the far more important "harvesting our existing garden" work: assisting existing companies and retaining high-value startup outfits that might leave T-town absent strategic action on the part of City/Chamber.
The struggle over who gets the last call has been more intense at some points than at other times: During the '80s for example, then Mayor Terry Young and the Chamber of Commerce were in a back-and-forth to fashion a compelling package for General Motors. GM was then seeking a production location for the firm's Saturn car project. GM had encouraged localities to send site, worker training and development incentive packages for what was then seen as GM's critical Japanese car import counterstrategy.
During the mid '80s (disclosure, I was a city staffer during this battle) there was a struggle between the City and the Chamber over an international trade development package that then Mayor Terry Young was crafting to help ratchet up Tulsa's exports and global trading volume.
The fight was resolved by giving the Chamber representation on the oversight panel for the "trade" project. More recently, rumor has it that the Chamber was not happy with City Hall's decision to hire its own retail development specialist to help with city/downtown retail and to shepherd retail projects of a strategic character.
Economic development is at the core of the Chamber's central responsibilities from both a traditional standpoint and from the vantage that one could call an active posture. Sean Griffin, a Tulsa-based business development entrepreneur, says that he's very impressed with the Chamber's new devotion to a region-wide focus and with the quality of the intensifying focus on business retention--he said that this was "a better model" than the Chamber's earlier, big focus on bringing new firms to town.
Conservative "development experts" imagine that market processes (that is, the normal operation of unfettered buyers and sellers, firms, suppliers and customers) are all that's required to ensure job creation and a community's future.
But the evidence from urban planning, regional economics, human geography and development theory suggests otherwise. Urban economist Edward Glaser's work on cities is a panoramic backgrounder: Glaser believes that cities are "humanities single greatest invention." Glaser looks at cities and growth dynamics across the planet in his fascinating 2010 book "Triumph of The City."
Glaser's list of the metrics keen observers routinely identify for stout competitors, include top flight universities, adequate capital for firm expansions and venture bucks for new starts, superior K-12 education, traditional and next stage capital (infrastructure) projects, and full exploitation of a town's intellectual and natural resources assets.
Glaser and development guru Richard Florida see these items, plus a tolerance for an open culture and a conscious effort to harness diversity, as highly material to elevating the growth and employment trajectory of places.
The Metro Chamber has played a big role with its Tulsa Futures project, it's still emerging diversity project and its better known out-of-town centered "company capture and retention" efforts.
The question: Is this agenda sufficiently broad and imaginative to incorporate an expanded rendition of Tulsa's aspirations? Is it potent enough to create a distinctive and sustainable future for Tulsa?
Tulsa biz guru Griffin believes that: " . . . the rapid pace of change has broken many critical systems including our schools, big parts of our economy and our politics."
His hope is that in the midst of this chaos, the Chamber, the City and regional leaders, could re-imagine the entire area as a start up enterprise ". . . with all the fresh thinking and new energy required to make this new brand a reality," he said.
TechCrunch writer Jon Bishkek, last week, gave a vivid elaboration on Griffin's notion. "With developments like last month's announcement that Cornell was selected to build a new tech campus in New York City, it seems to follow that if 'a city is a startup,' then the best mayors are the ones who are looking at their cities in much the same way as entrepreneurs look at the companies they have founded.
"The ingredients for a successful startup and a successful city are remarkably similar. You need to build stuff that people want. You need to attract quality talent. You have to have enough capital to get your fledgling ideas to a point of sustainability. And you need to create a world-class culture that not only attracts the best possible people, but encourages them to stick around even when things aren't going so great," writes Bischke.
An Emerging Role
Often people assume, rightly, that the Metro Chamber is more attuned to the needs of big business than to the requirements of smaller ventures.
The emerging reality is that technology, including social networking in particular, and an organizing model that looks remarkably like a micro-business operation, makes the Metro Chamber surprisingly responsive to its small business members. And the Metro Chamber has created a spectrum of services that are a match, according to my sources, for the rather different needs of these folks.
But there is something else afoot--or maybe something that isn't as most of us imagine:
A Bloomberg BusinessWeek article from Sept. 28 called "Rethinking the Boosterism About Small Business," stated: "With more than 14 million Americans out of work and the U.S. facing the prospect of a double dip recession it's (interesting) to know the Democrats and Republicans agree on at least one way to kickstart growth: support small businesses. Everyone here knows that small businesses are where most of the new jobs begin.
"Pres. Barack Obama said in a September 8 address to Congress, unveiling of $447 billion jobs bill (that) most Americans would probably concur with the idea of small businesses as indispensable to the national welfare dates to Thomas Jefferson's veneration of the farmer. In the popular imagination, small firms are more nimble, more innovative and more virtuous than blue chip companies that employ thousands.
"Yet the notion that small business is the force behind prosperity is not true. The longer the U.S. and other countries cling to this myth, the harder it will be to carry out the kinds of economic policies that might actually stimulate job growth," the article's writer Charles Kenny concluded.
Kenny, a writer, analyst and fellow at the New American Foundation, goes on in the Bloomberg piece excerpted here. He concedes that some small companies do of course grow: He talks about Apple, Hewlett-Packard and mentions that Google and Dell were crafted by guys in dorm rooms. But according to his latest evidence--a carefully selected sample set of representative small firms, from 2004 to 2008, only 3 percent of small enterprises added more than 10 employees during this four-year period.
Griffin says about 2% of new Tulsa area starts have the grit, staying power and fundamentals to yield enduring value and additional jobs--although he sees new employment from these high yield firms as more anemic that we might imagine--a simply consequence, as he sees it, of powerful, technology fueled productivity drivers.
So there is a real need for a powerful and effective organization that can attend to the needs of large and medium size organizations that actually create large numbers of new jobs: This objective is consistent with the Chamber's master strategy of creating 10,000 high-value employees over the course of the next 3 to 5 years.
Conversely, we could argue that it's up to our still smallish venture capital community, organizations like the Chamber's semi-independent TYPros young professional group and projects like its Forge business incubator (jointly managed by a little known but interesting small business development organization here in town called the Tulsa Economic Development Corporation), community banks and people like Tulsa venture guru Griffin to focus on harvesting small business -- because it's arguably a completely different territory.
The Big Queries
How can the Chamber be more effective in securing outcomes for Tulsa when convulsive economic events take place?
Example: this month the Chamber is publicly working with Tulsa Labor, City Hall and Governor Fallin's office to mitigate the employment/supplier impacts of American Airline's (AA) bankruptcy action. And this is happening in the wake of strong rumors of an AA merger with Delta Airlines: an event that might weaken the leverage Oklahoma State and Tulsa has garnered via an over $62 million investment in worker training, facilities and exotic airline diagnostic/hardware systems over the last decade.
How will the Chamber respond to continuing calls for it and to work more aggressively with Northside business people and the Greenwood Chamber--the Northside business outfit?
Part of the critique here is that in the past the Chamber has simply been too much of a mainstream, plain vanilla outfit to be responsive to Tulsa's many tribes. Lots of local observers believe "balanced growth"--that is doing something tangible about the anemic retail and commercial landscape in north/west Tulsa is one of Tulsa's epic challenges and one that the Metro Chamber is in a position to do something about.
They have a peerless influence on Tulsa business psychology and local investor behavior here in town. As it happens, the Chamber has been active in this arena since the early '80s. The issue then and now has been one of intensity.
Can and will the Chamber use its considerable energy, political and social moxie -- and the local taxpayer supported dollars at its disposal, to more dramatically help re-ignite growth in midtown, the downtown and to north & west Tulsa?
Clancy and Chamber CEO Neal, according to Oklahoma State Rep. Jabar Shumate, have been very energetic advocates of diversity and done, what he says is an "A-" job of late in helping to inculcate new business development in north Tulsa. Over the past two years, he said he has also seen big staff changes: he says that a look at some of the new staffing at the Chamber and its energetic "Mosaic" cultural development project is proof positive of their emerging focus on this front.
New Metro Chamber Chief Frank, in a recent interview revealed that she fully intends to follow through on the significant strides in staff diversity made in the last two years and to continue to be hyper attentive to the needs of West and North Tulsa and the other Tulsa "tribes."
The Chamber's rumored role in recent months in "switching" construction management of the "Shops on North Peoria" project--a small but strategic retail development venture, funded largely by City community development funds, from oversight by the Greenwood Chamber to Rose Washington's Tulsa Economic Development Corporation (TEDC), is an example of a less hands-off effort.
Veteran City Hall watchers saw the controversial "handoff" by the Bartlett administration, as an intervention partly inspired by the Metro Chamber. The new project manager, TEDC CEO Rose Washington, is widely regarded as an exceedingly capable and energetic executive who is doing many interesting projects with the SBA fueled/city assisted business development shop. Notably, she has a new joint venture with Tulsa's Forge-a business incubator managed by TYPros.
High Profile Associations
What is the relationship between the Metro Chamber and the emerging gaggle of downtown merchant associations--the Blue Dome district folks, the Brady District business coalition, and with Jamie Jamieson and others who were at the core of the Pearl District/6th St. corridor in Tulsa?
And what about industrial "groups" and mobilizing high wage/high value firms and economic activity for Tulsa? The Chamber in a recent piece on Tulsa's mid-run economic future listed healthcare, information security, aerospace, advanced manufacturing, energy, regional headquarters & professional services and transport/distribution and logistics.
These activities are all a big part of the Chamber's multi-million "Tulsa Futures" project. How can the Chamber be a more tangible enabler for firms in these arenas?
Over the course of the last three years, the Chamber's been criticized for not having the capacity to support Tulsa's booming downtown, capacity that would tangibly benefit the central business district. City planner Delise Tomlinson has been hired as downtown development director to rectify that complaint.
Part of the urgent need, some business people feel stems from the shut down of Downtown Tulsa Unlimited--a nonprofit corporation that marketed downtown and managed an array of services for Tulsa's downtown district for decades.
Tomlinson looks to be, according to Tulsa developer Mike Sager, an effective advocate for the downtown and an urban planner with a great handle on the nexus between business development, urban economics, retail, and the regional economy.
The Labor/Chamber Disconnect
Labor management relationships in America have been on a deteriorating path for sometime. Notable recent exceptions: the successful resolution of epic wage and benefit changes negotiated during General Motors and the Chrysler bailout packages, and the huge deals orchestrated by the Obama administration.
But in general, part of the unraveling of America economic power has been a deteriorating capacity to get good results from labor-management engagement. The overall decline of the American automotive industry is one instance, but there are others most having to do with the diminished vigor and capacity of America's manufacturing economy.
The current American Airlines crisis is, in part, a problem induced by outsized energy, labor costs and American Airline's so called legacy cost structure.
How, in early 21st century America, can a business confederation--even one as mighty as Tulsa's Metro Chamber, establish a more productive relationship with labor outfits, and more generally with working people?
Rick Mullings, a Tulsa labor activist and AA veteran told me that current management's inability to fully engage labor's outlook on re-crafting key practices at AA's giant Tulsa operations, is a big part of the challenge.
Tulsa's state representative Jabar Shumate, whose district includes the airport enclave, agrees this was a signature problem.
Shumate said the AA's labor-management climate had deteriorated over the course the last four years. This is consistent with some of the reportage from the Tulsa World and from national scope publications including the Wall Street Journal.
Robert Reich, a Clinton-era secretary of labor and a keen scholar of management/labor relations has written widely about the history here:
"During three decades from 1947 to 1977, the nation implemented what might be called a basic bargain with American workers. Employers paid them enough to buy what they produced. Mass production and mass consumption proved perfect complements. Almost everyone who wanted a job could find one with good wages, or at least wages that were trending upward. During these three decades everyone's wages grew -- not just those at or near the top... of late America has been in a vastly different place..."
Shumate illuminates a critical challenge for the Chamber: engaging labor organizations in creative and fully constructive ways. This is a novel challenge for a business confederation that has often been hostile to unionization and to the larger prospects of organized labor in the larger economy. Labor-management peace and productive work climate are arguably part of the great success of the German economic miracle.
Some readers may know that Germany has done exceedingly well on the export/manufacturing front in the last decade-in no small measure because employees are exceedingly well paid and serve on the boards of directors of major German enterprises--the so-called "co-determination" regime has allowed German firms to retain market share, healthy profits and labor peace in the German industrial economy for over a decade.
And the success goes beyond luxury cars, computer numerical control devices and exotic machine tools--it extends to best-in-class performance in wind and solar power production and impressive shares in the manufacturing of these technologies as well.
BMW, Mercedes and other large German industrial concerns not only have a positive and powerful connection to the German labor confederations but they have collaborated with the German educational system to produce a first-class apprenticeship/pre-engineering program that is peerless--and a system that Oklahoma is well-positioned to emulate: one that is a great match for the Metro Chambers worker/training engagements and Oklahoma's well-endowed career tech programs.
David Lowery, a financial and development consultant here in Tulsa and a former chief of the City's economic development program during the '80s talked about this connection in a recent UTW interview.
Lowery says that part of the Chamber problem is that the organization has sometimes simply not been imaginative enough to exploit new opportunities, and to conceive of pathways that should at least be explored.
Some of this, he attributes to philosophical reservations, on the part of Chamber officials and Tulsa business people in "getting into markets", and from their vantage, picking and choosing winners-- reservations about what conservative observers and policy wonks call having an active "industrial policy" in Tulsa.
New Chamber Chair Frank has seemingly anticipated Lowery: her view, being bold is not just a nice thing to do, but is at the core of what has to happen in order to make progress. She amplified this sentiment in her inaugural message earlier this month. The North Country...
Shumate says he believes that one of the Chamber's great strengths is to focus on getting Tulsa public and private people and folks from the larger Metro to think of the entire region as a single, tightly integrated space. And biz guru Griffin agrees.
Shumate sees the Chamber's challenges as twofold: getting to be a more active participant in "incenting" private people to make investments in north and west Tulsa, and in getting the kinds of placements they have made in huge measure of late in the downtown.
He gives Chamber Chief Neal an A- for his efforts to create a more diverse staff at the Chamber. And, he notes, the organization is consistent with changing its "mindset" and securing a sharper focus on the north and west. He also gives the Chamber big marks for its efforts--especially this past year with Metro Chair Clancy pushing through the Tisdale Wellness Center, the specialty clinic and preventive medicine center that was a long-anticipated project for the northside.
Jabar also talked about "Mosaic"--the Chamber's ambiguous effort to affirmatively represent Tulsa's many cultures and people and to help businesses identify overlooked locations, training opportunities and marketing opportunities that have a strong connection to nontraditional locations in North Tulsa, and in the west.
The World to Come
Imagine a place down the street from where you live you can get virtually anything, under the size let's say, of a car, produced on the spot in accord with your exacting specifications.
This is what production futurists call "micro/on demand" production and it's an early and very cool part of what is almost certainly our future here in Tulsa and across the country. London's Economist magazine ran a cover article some months ago on these prospects entitled, "Please print me a Stradivarius."
So the future of physical production looks to be something very much akin to what many of us watched during the Star Trek Next-Generation show, that is "replicator" like technologies that allow us to get the things we want without our existing jungle of producers, intermediaries, distribution networks etc.
Small firms will be a big, re-empowered party to this process, but many of them will have to seek alliances with co-ops or larger operations that have the technologies, the design people, and the other intellectual assets required to be a part of this new world.
In Tulsa, we can already see part of this future in the Fab Lab, a breakout mini factory on north Lewis Ave. that is piloting the critical technologies, novel production and design strategies and people skill sets will be a big part of the world to come. And there are huge implications for employment as well: some analysts, notably MIT engineer/designer Neil Gershenfeld foresees a mid-run future filled with hundreds of thousands, perhaps some day, millions of neo-artisan/super craft jobs produced by what he and others call a second industrial revolution.
So, what role for one of the planet's biggest business confederations (our Metro Chamber) in the rollout?
What role should the Metro Chamber be playing in scaling up Fab Lab and some active private initiatives at Tulsa's Zebco firm and others that will be surely be at the core of the next phase of making stuff?
Another facet of the coming transformation is what writer/columnist Thomas Friedman and others call "big data" -- a fantastic conjunction of high-speed computing, computing everywhere and sensor systems that will give individuals, small firms and large ones alike, astonishing access to information and physical processes that will be driven by them.
Imagine a pharmaceutical firm that prepares drugs very tightly tailored to your age, maladies, medical history and prospects. This too is an avenue to an unending customization that an aggressive and imaginative Chamber of Commerce could help to insinuate into Tulsa's DNA sooner than later.
The folks at the Oklahoma innovation Institute, led by Tulsa venture capitalist Barry Davis, OU/Tulsa Dr. Gerard Clancy and others are currently pushing to secure funding for Tulsa's first large-scale supercomputing installation. The facility would allow designers, manufacturers and other folks to deliver on part of a radical transformation of physical production suggested by the Economist magazine in its recent "Print Me A Stradivarius" cover piece.
Again, what role will a Metropolitan Chamber and play in this great transformation? How will our well-financed/well-positioned Chamber accelerate Tulsa's entry into this new world?
What about aerospace? Some years ago as UTW readers may remember, Tulsa voters approved, by a whopping margin, a proposal to allocate $350 million of taxpayer funds to a special sales tax allotment to help the Boeing Corporation put together its breakout Dream-Liner 787 assembly facility: a facility that would've operated in Tulsa and brought scads of new jobs, supplier opportunities and a brand-new and rich business ecology to town.
Aerospace workers and supplier companies will struggle mightily if American Airlines is successfully acquired by Delta. If AA is acquired, Delta is likely to repositioned many AA assets and may use facilities elsewhere probably facilities/assets more congruent with Delta's current network/ecology of flights, suppliers, hubs, etc.
Tulsa is in the category of an AA special stakeholder given our active efforts (to the tune of over $40 million) to publicly support AA and the aerospace industry. If we wish to have more of a say in aviation, more of a voice in how thousands of very hard working, talented aerospace workers hang -- we need to step up and be active, imaginative players.
So part of the way forward is to have all aviation players (carriers and plane manufactures) look at advanced biofuels, electrical propulsion and other novel systems that can transform the cost structure of the industry and break the oil price/flight constraint. And then there are the signal technologies that define airliners, apart from engines. Airframes, materials, safety systems, navigation and communications gear -- all stuff that until very recently required years of development and billions of dollars
The cost of a new airliner is still huge, but the creation/testing cycle has been revolutionized by supercomputing and audacious new modeling systems. This means, arguably, that smaller players and novel community/university/private initiatives can have an impact on aviation futures, job loci and growth prospects.
A recent Tulsa World article reported a round of discussions with the Metro Chamber, the Tulsa Transport/aerospace unions and Tulsa's big aircraft supplier community about incentives to retain AA jobs/contracts. Some of this, Shumate and others believe, is righteous and productive. Another part of the discussion, Tulsa's David Lowery and others say, should be independent of our entanglement with AA.
Indeed, this writer has penned a piece or two on this larger agenda. At the moment, more than 24 percent of the operating cost for commercial airliners, is consumed by fuel. English entrepreneur Richard Branson, of Virgin Airlines, is in an adventurous round of experimentation, using advanced bio-fuels, to run his airline. New engines concepts and related technologies could be looked at via Tulsa area/globally sourced demonstration projects.
A gambit along these lines could help birth technologies that could rework commercial aviation in just the way that low-power multiprocessors, vivid touch interfaces and broadband "everywhere" has recast computing and communications technology.
The Retail Revolution
Darrell Rigby, a Bain Capital retail analyst has written recently about another huge transformation that the Chamber could help Tulsans exploit sooner than later--via "pop ups," university/private demo projects and seed cap placements via its "futures fund."
He writes, "A decade after the dot-com implosion, traditional retailers are lagging in their embrace of digital technologies. To survive, they must pursue a strategy of omni channel retailing -- an integrated sales experience that melds the advantages of physical stores with the information-rich experience of online shopping. Retailers face challenges in reaching this goal. Many traditional retailers aren't technology-savvy. Few are adept at test-and-learn methodologies . . .
"Traditional retailers must also transform the one big feature Internet retailer's lack-stores-from a liability into an asset... They must turn shopping into an entertaining, exciting, and emotionally engaging experience. Companies like Disney, Apple, and Jordan's Furniture are leading the way."
The Metro Chamber via demo projects, like those recently put in play in downtown Tulsa's Art Deco district by Elote's adventurous Liddy Aud, might be an audacious way to get the ball rolling. Other trial efforts, staged with hungry software companies, with downtown/mid town merchant associations and TU's shiny new IT graduate programs, might give Tulsa retail operators an early jumpstart--and the Chamber could help spark these efforts.
"Mo" Audacity Needed
A host of very sharp folks believe that Tulsa needs to accelerate its pace and be a more adventurous, bolder player in the mid-run world to come: we will want and still more need a more inclusive Chamber, a more cooperative labor management climate, a more audacious economic development policy and maybe more of the "start-up" kinetic that Griffin imagines.
Being bold means looking at notions that earlier might have been regarded as ideologically suspect, impractical or even too grandiose given Tulsa's history and historic aspirations.
Frank seems to be okay with at least exploring notions in this category. And my talks with more than 15 local public, business, and development officials suggest that this is a big part of what needs to happen here in Tulsa and more generally in the region. Finding the beef in Mayor Bartlett's fascinating, but sketchy second century energy initiative is an example here.
And doing something powerful, something muscular and sustainable about possibly massive employment and contractor payroll drops, as a consequence American Airline's bankruptcy is another big arena. It's evident that the Chamber should be a big player in both of these projects.
Intensely focused efforts to improve the skill set and agility of Green Country workers are a top challenge for the region. This past weekend's, longform piece in the New York Times, by writers Duhigg and Bradsher, on Apple outsourcing operations bears reading. The piece has a lucid connect to Tulsa's trajectory and some fascinating detail on the character of world class production/supplier chains: it goes directly to what needs to happen if U.S. manufacturing is to again be fully competitive.
Tulsa has an abundance of career and vocational tech operations, and according to some keen observers, our aerospace worker community has some of the most agile and skilled people in America's industrial community. Fully mobilizing and repositioning some of this capacity is a core challenge for the City, for other area public officials, for Tulsa's labor community and for the Metro Chamber.
Some of the most seasoned Tulsa development observers believe intense imagination and a fevered Chamber outreach effort are now needed. They say this is the way ahead, if the Chamber elects to a fully inclusive, big tent player in Tulsa's second century. But more importantly, they see a much more compelling economic and social pathway for the region as a product of a fully more robust participation in framing our best future.
But they are also convinced that we need to work directly, in dogma-free fashion, with all of Tulsa tribes, with Tulsa Labor, with our emerging community development players and with our inventive and wildly endowed philanthropic enterprises.
The age of simple Chamber dominance is over: the road ahead is a multidimensional one with lots of able players and a wild array of deals, compacts, public-private efforts and a bevy of voices. It is also, some believe a time that will be marked by the Chamber's evolution into an agile, enabling partner in T-Town's epic struggle to get to the next stage---a fateful struggle that has only begun.
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