POSTED ON AUGUST 29, 2012:
It's all about beating the competition
Economic development. It means different things to different people in different places. The most common understanding seems to be that whatever form it takes, what it does is produce jobs. It's the development of jobs that's at the heart of doing what it takes to develop an economically vibrant city.
Usually it means new jobs. Maybe if we focused more on doing what it takes to bring jobs back to America that have left it would be called economic redevelopment. We should redevelop and return current out-of-country jobs with American manufacturers back to the shores of America with American workers.
But one thing about economic development is certain: it's competitive. Every city and state wants and needs more jobs which will produce more taxpayers who will earn more money to support governments, schools, families, small businesses, and lots of other things. So how does a city like Tulsa get that competitive edge? How do we beat out other cities trying to get the same jobs we are trying to get? Is it just having a deal-closing fund, better mass transit, better land-use planning -- or is there more to it? There certainly is no one magic bullet or answer in these hard economic expansion times.
To gain a winning advantage, you have to start the same way coaches do: by figuring out how to beat other teams. You learn all you can about the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors and yourself. You figure out your weaknesses and you put your resources there to turn them into competitive strengths.
In these times of slow growing economies, underemployment, and cities struggling to provide basic municipal services, cities have to be very strategic with laser-like focus on acquiring a competitive edge in attracting new businesses or expanding existing ones to grow their local economies.
While the federal and state governments can help with tax reform, regulatory reforms, and good education systems, the responsibility for growing and maintaining vibrant cities primarily lies with the local leaders. To assure cities are strong and attractive for business development, leaders need to know the SWTOs (strengthens-weaknesses-threats--opportunities) which they face.
Recently, Mayor Dewey Bartlett asked the University of Tulsa's Collins College of Business to research and investigate how Tulsa stacks up with 11 regional competitor cities using 15 economic vitality and economic quality of life criteria. Under the leadership of TU professor Dr. J. Markham Collins and his team, the city now has an outstanding report entitled Economic Benchmarks: Tulsa's Competitive Challenge Regional Competitor Analysis. The full report can be found at utulsa.edu/tulsa-benchmarks.
The comparative cities were Albuquerque, Austin, Fort Worth, Kansas City, Little Rock, Memphis, Oklahoma City, Omaha, Shreveport, St. Louis and Wichita. Each of these cities share a common geographic location, the potential to attract firms and individuals from Tulsa or that might have located in Tulsa, diversified economies that share some industries with Tulsa, and locations approximately within a day's drive of Tulsa.
Using the 15 criteria to compare competition, the benchmark score card showed that Tulsa was favorable with cost of living, unemployment level, and per capita income. Tulsa was neutral (no advantage or disadvantage) with housing opportunities, below 200 percent poverty, percent of professional jobs, net migration, and metro GDP per capita. Unfortunately we were unfavorable with percent of jobs, percent of creative jobs, percent with a bachelors degree, percent of work force age, retirement age dependency, average annual wages, and venture capital investments.
Are we winning more or losing more in the efforts to create jobs compared to these other cities? If these other cities are winning more jobs and industry than we are, perhaps these criteria have something to do with that. As the report states, the results of this data analysis and comparison project provides several implementation opportunities for the Tulsa metro area, including:
--Enhanced ability to create an integrated economic development planning process
--Information resources for strategic public budgeting
--Guidance for collaboration with other public, private, and nonprofit organizations
--More focused and directed use of private and educational resources by city leaders
--Support for local and state level legislative initiatives
--A current benchmark on where Tulsa stands, which can be used to measure and verify improvements.
When we think about spending public dollars to improve the economic health of the Tulsa area and thereby the quality of life, it would be good to apply some of those resources on our areas of weaknesses. Meanwhile our competitors have figured out how you win the battle of job creation and attraction by using their strengthens to their advantage and using our weaknesses to their advantage.
Thanks to the partnership between the City and TU, we now have the indisputable data to show where we need to focus to be more competitive.
Some efforts in those areas are already underway. But we need to break down the walls of the institutional silos and form one strong collaborative partnership.
Currently, economic development efforts are undertaken by cities, counties, chambers, the state, authorities and private companies. Perhaps we need an Economic Development Foundation whose sole mission is to pull together all of the public and private economic development players and resources, have a "one voice" strategic master plan, and start beating our competition by turning our unfavorable into favorable.
Thanks to TU, Tulsa now has a scouting report on our competition. Let's use it to beat them for new jobs in Tulsa.
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