By D. J. MORROW INGRAM
CHAMBER LEADERS: B.A. Chamber Chairman of the Board Russell Peterson (left) and Chamber President Ted Allison visit the Northeastern State University – Broken Arrow campus, where $26 million from the Vision 2025 vote will be used for science, library and classroom facilities.
D.J MORROW INGRAM for GTR Newspapers
Editor’s note: This article is the first in a series of articles in the GTR Newspapers highlighting cities and areas in greater Tulsa that are experiencing growth and improvement in quality of life. Future articles will include Jenks, Owasso, Bixby and other parts of greater Tulsa.
_Two roads diverged in a wood,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Broken Arrow has come to a “Y” in the road, says B.A. Chamber president and CEO Ted Allison. It’s time to act.
“Broken Arrow is no longer a small, sleepy town,” he says, “but rather a community that has experienced amazing growth and is now the third largest community in the state. In many ways we are like a souped-up Corvette that is merely puttering around the block at 30 m.p.h., so the question is will we take the proper steps to capitalize on our extensive assets?”
As the population of Broken Arrow rapidly approaches 100,000, other city leaders apparently agree with Allison, and an unusual triad of leadership has been focusing on developing a plan for the city’s future.
“The city of Broken Arrow, the Chamber and the Broken Arrow school district have been working together to improve the long-range vitality and viability of our city,” he says. “We have studied nearly every aspect of Broken Arrow, have visited numerous cities of similar size around the country and are in the process of finalizing our recommendations.”
Allison says it is already apparent that one key thing needs to happen: Broken Arrow must have an economic development corporation (EDC) whose mission is pure economic development.
“Many of the cities we’ve studied have gone through some severe economic crisis that was their driving force,” he says. “We haven’t experienced that but instead our explosive growth demands that we make some changes.”
Allison, who is certified in economic development, says the leadership group will be recommending an EDC be formed and housed at the Chamber. The EDC would have a separate board of directors and separate books and could be funded by a variety of sources to provide incentives to businesses, marketing dollars and staffing.
“We’ve been asked before why we shouldn’t just wait and vote to fund specific business incentives on a case-by-case basis. What we’ve found is that doesn’t work because you are then tipping off your competitors—other communities across the nation —as to what would be your best offer to a business considering coming to your community. You show the entire world your best hand. It doesn’t work in poker and it doesn’t work in economic development.”
Allison says an EDC would also allow the Chamber staff to be more focused and not be spread as thin as they are now.
“We have had the current model of Chamber organization for 30 years. The time is right for us to fully market Broken Arrow to the corporate world and be fully prepared to act on opportunities as they arise.
“Because of lack of resources right now, we tend to ride the brakes and move slower than we should.”
Allison says a long-range outcome city leaders hope for is to “make it easy to see our grandchildren” because young families have career opportunities here and stay here upon graduation from college.
“We need growth in ‘head of household’ level jobs so the younger generation of professionals do not think they have to leave this area to develop their careers. That’s one reason why we’ve focused so heavily on higher education.”
With two of the state’s top public school districts serving the community—Broken Arrow and Union—six years ago city leaders realized the importance of having accessible, quality higher education and pursued Northeastern State University.
“To their credit, voters stepped up and passed a dedicated 1/2 penny sales tax that allowed the city to complete Phase One of the Broken Arrow campus which capped enrollment at 3,000 students.”
Phase Two, which will bring the student capacity to 8,000, is funded primarily by Vision 2025 funds.
“This shows you what can be accomplished when people get behind a vision,” he says, “and it shows prospective employers that we have potential employees who are already trained or available and willing for retraining.”
The opening of the Bass Pro Shops this fall is a boon for retail development, Allison says, because it opened doors and put Broken Arrow in front of retailers who might not have otherwise considered the community.
“No doubt it is making a difference not only with sales tax revenue but, perhaps more importantly, with perception outside the area and state. Growing the retail base is critically important because, again, it will help fund our economic development efforts.”
Allison says the phenomenal residential rooftop growth needs to be paired with retail growth to gain funds for basic services—police, fire, roads and bridges.
“With residential rooftops, you get more children in the school system, more cars on the streets and the potential for more crime although Broken Arrow is one of the state’s safest cities.
“Increases in retail and corporate businesses add to tax revenues without those other burdens.”
Allison is quick to assert that he doesn’t buy into the idea of “border wars” with Tulsa or the other area communities over economic development but strongly believes in regional economic development.
“We must all work together,” he says, citing Vision 2025 as an excellent example of regional cooperation. “We want to see the metro area move forward because Tulsa will be one of the keys to attracting and keeping young professionals. The connection and importance of Tulsa and its surrounding communities to each other is critical.”
As the leadership team moves forward, the Broken Arrow Chamber will continue to do its work of providing information to prospective residents and businesses.
“We’re not the deal maker. We try to provide information and bring parties together so a deal can be made. We help entrepreneurs and small businesses. We market the city and we do the economic development.”
Allison says he strongly believes in the leadership that is working together.
“These are strong, talented, intelligent people who believe in the future of Broken Arrow. I have every faith that as we face that ‘Y’ in the road that they will choose a road that is perhaps less traveled but one that has tremendous opportunity.”