Greater Tulsans Bear Down for the Economic Future

Contributing Editor

RESILIENT CITY: Many Tulsans wonder what will be ahead in the economic future. Whatever, greater Tulsa has seen its ups and down over the years, always rebounding with a special spirit and enthusiasm.


The economic news keeps pouring in and none of it is good. We are told by the media using terms few of us understand that due to sub-prime loans, derivatives, credit default swaps or collateralized debt obligations the world capital markets have “frozen up” so nobody can borrow money to expand a business or buy a car and that drives up unemployment and further reduces buying which increases bankruptcies and so on and so forth. The dreaded “downward spiral” metaphor has become hackneyed. And, oh yes, somebody left the gate open and let the regulatory cow out. Now congress needs to round it up and get it back in the barn. Looking at it all can be overwhelming and scary, but maybe a close to home look at the situation can yield a breath of optimism.

Optimism must have been on the mind of David Page, Marketing President of JP Morgan Chase & Co. and Tulsa Metro Chamber 2009 Chairman when he addressed chamber members at this year’s Inaugural Luncheon held at the Renaissance Hotel, Jan. 20. He and the Chamber staff have branded the year ahead with the proclamation, “We are stronger together.” It was a call to reunite and reignite the legacy of exemplary leadership that has characterized the Tulsa spirit from its beginning and has fueled the city’s economic growth through the years. It was also a theme striking a harmoniously positive cord with a new administration taking office in the nation’s Capital nearly simultaneous to the Chamber luncheon. It seemed unity was the order of the day here and in Washington, D.C. As Page pointed out in his address, Tulsa has much going for it when it comes to riding out an economic storm, even one that may be shaping up to be a category five.

The 1980s was a transformative decade for the city when a once insular and consistently reliable energy-based economy became subject to worldwide events. The domestic oil industry, along with Tulsa’s many international oil companies, and their long-standing control of world oil became subjugated to politics and policies beyond the countries’ boarders. Initially the result was a precipitous rise in the cost of world petroleum followed by a devastating collapse of oil prices eventually followed by continued price volatility in the decades to follow. Tulsa’s economy, once considered inflation proof, was devastated.

So what did the former Oil Capital of the World do? It picked itself up, dusted off and reinvented itself by creating a more diversified local and regional economic base drawing primarily from the manufacturing sector while holding onto a robust aerospace industry. All the while striving to maintain one of the city’s greatest assets, its unique quality of life. It is the success of this concerted effort collectively achieved by Tulsa citizenry that bodes well for how we as a community will weather the impending economic storm.

Page pointed out Tulsa was selected by Forbes Magazine in October as the fifth best city in the country to “ride out” the U.S. recession based on its low unemployment rate and stable homeowners equity. (Currently Tulsa’s unemployment rate is 4.6 percent compared to 6.5 percent nationally.)

Forbes also ranks the city as the best metropolitan area for jobs among the 100 largest metro areas in the country based on household income, unemployment, income growth, cost of living and job growth. Other factors feeding the positive outlook are Tulsa’s cost of doing business at 7.1 percent below and cost of living at 11.5 percent below the national average. And our per capita income is 20.7 percent above the national average. U.S. new job projections for 2009 expects a 1.5 percent decline while Tulsa is projected to remain virtually the same at minus 0.02. In addition, Tulsa is ranked by MSN Real Estate as the ninth best livable city in terms of best bargains for real estate and is forecasted to be the fifth strongest market for residential real estate in the nation through September 2009. The fact that the city added a net 1,890 jobs in 2008, a feat hardly achieved anywhere else, alone speaks well for our resilient economic base.

To further support his optimistic narrative, Page harkened back to well over a century ago in 1903 when early day Tulsans with names like J.M. Hall, J.H. McBirney, John Willits, Dr. Kennedy and others met at Tulsa’s Opera House to form the Tulsa Commercial Club, the forerunner of today’s Chamber. The organization embarked on an effort to grow a fledgling Indian Territory town into a center for commerce. To that end, in 1908 city leaders embarked on a whirlwind, 16-day train tour through St Louis, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Washington, D.C. (to be greeted by President Teddy Roosevelt) Baltimore, New York, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Kansas City and other cities promoting the little known city of Tulsa. Along for the ride and featured at every stop was a spectacular, fully uniformed marching band along with a charming cowboy comedian by the name of Will Rogers twirling a rope and braggin’ about Tulsa. It was a public relations triumph that foretold of the imagination, ingenuity, resourcefulness and innovation that was to define the Tulsa Spirit in years to come.

Today with an economic storm looming on our horizon, Page’s message sought to once again summon up that enduring optimism that has helped transform a little frontier town into a vibrant city. He was also clear that optimism alone wouldn’t get the job done. Just as it has in the past, it will take hard work, imaginative thinking and everyone pulling together. In conclusion he put it this way, “Metaphorically we will board that train again this year.”

Updated 01-26-2009

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  1. Lee Ann Dennis    Jan 29, 08:15 PM    #
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