Steve Turnbo Keeps Slugging for a Greater Tulsa

Executive Editor

CHAMBER CHAIRMAN: Steve Turnbo in the downtown Tulsa office of his public relations firm, Schnake Turnbo Frank, Inc., where he is the chairman and CEO. He also is serving as this year’s chairman of the Tulsa Metro Chamber.

D.J. MORROW INGRAM for GTR Newspapers

When Steve Turnbo was in college 39 years ago, his goal was to play baseball in the major leagues—his specialties were pitching and hitting. Most would say Turnbo has achieved his goal, but in a game of a different sort.

As the newly inducted chairman of the Tulsa Metro Chamber, a large part of Turnbo’s job is to pitch investing in the Tulsa region to new and existing businesses and to make base hits and, hopefully, home runs in the area of economic development.

“The Tulsa Metro Chamber is the nerve center of the economic development thrust of Tulsa and the Tulsa area,” he says. “We have played that role throughout our history and continue to play it today. I don’t see that changing.”

Turnbo cites the establishment of Tulsa Community College and the Port of Catoosa as just two examples of projects the Chamber has supported that have been great additions to the area. He mentions the Chamber’s support of Vision 2025 as critical to the region, not only in changing Tulsa’s skyline but also in making improvements throughout Tulsa County.

Emphasizing the word “region,” Turnbo says, “Our (the Chamber’s) job is to create prosperity for the Tulsa metro region through a variety of initiatives—education, legislation, business development, community betterment—many partnerships.”

Turnbo adds that two new initiatives are particularly exciting—Tulsa’s Future and Tulsa’s Young Professionals, TYPros (profiled in the February-March issue of GTR Newspapers).

“Tulsa’s Future is our most aggressive economic development program ever,” Turnbo says. “Our goal is to raise $9 million through the private sector to fund a five-year economic development plan to grow and create more jobs in the metro Tulsa region.

“We have raised just over $8 million and expect to hit our goal this spring.”

The goal of the program is to create 10,000 primary, high-value jobs with a targeted average income of $45,000.

“Those 10,000 primary jobs will lead to the creation of an additional 16,000 indirect jobs,” he says, “ultimately meaning 26,000 new jobs in the metro region.”

Tulsa’s Future is structured to promote the growth of Tulsa’s industry clusters and to position the majority of those primary jobs within the following seven clusters: aerospace, transportation and logistics; advanced manufacturing and services; healthcare and molecular science; IT and telecom; education and knowledge creation; financial and business services and hospitality, tourism and entertainment.

“This is a new, proactive approach and I credit the leadership of Stan Lybarger, Tom Maxwell and Jay Clemens.”

The launch of TYPros is critical to the area’s growth to stop the “brain-drain” created when new graduates and young professionals take flight to other cities and states, Turnbo says.

“This group will proactively help shape our area’s future workforce by focusing on attracting and retaining young professionals while establishing Tulsa’s next generation of business and community leaders.”

A key message of Turnbo’s inaugural address in January at the Renaissance Tulsa Hotel and Convention Center—and each time he speaks—is the importance of cooperation among the region’s communities.

“One of the first things I did when I became chairman-elect was to start meeting with the leadership of all of the surrounding communities and ask what they wanted from the Tulsa Metro Chamber,” he says.

“Without exception all said they wanted a return to the cooperative relationships that existed during the campaign for the passage of Vision 2025.”

Turnbo says it is incumbent upon all business leaders to remember that we live, work and play in each other’s back yards.

“Like a family, we won’t always agree and that’s okay. But by and large, we have the same interests and similar goals. It’s often said, ‘As Tulsa goes, so goes the region.’ I think it works both ways.”

Turnbo says he finds it exciting to watch the cranes go up throughout the metro area in conjunction with Vision 2025 progress.

“There is a sense of a major turnaround in this community,” he says. “We are headed in the right direction.”

What does Turnbo hope to see five years down the road?
“I hope we’re preparing for an NCAA tournament at the new arena and that residential development in the downtown area has made significant progress. I hope we have grand openings of some of the major developments that we are currently exploring and that Tulsa’s Future has created not only 16,000 jobs, but more. I hope we have greater harmony than we have today.”

Turnbo says other keys to the area’s success are the continued improvements to higher education and research.

“It’s hard to imagine that just 10 years ago we were the largest city in the area without a publicly funded four-year higher education institution,” he says. “But now we have a plethora of quality opportunities.”

Turnbo says the addition of OU-Tulsa, OSU-Tulsa, NSU-Broken Arrow and the many adult, work-force focused institutions such as the University of Phoenix, Oklahoma Wesleyan and Southern Nazarene work to compliment the long-standing University of Tulsa, Oral Roberts University, Tulsa Technology Center and Tulsa Community College.

“Education and economic development are joined at the hip.”
The growth of the OSU research facility will also be important to the area’s future.

“I am truly humbled to be leading the Chamber,” he says, adding that the Tulsa Metro Chamber received the American Chamber of Commerce Executives Award for Excellence in 2005, the industry’s top award.

Leading the Chamber has become a part-time job for Turnbo who is chairman and CEO of the public relations firm Schnake Turnbo Frank, Inc. He lavishes praise on his firm’s staff for making it possible for him to be away from the business much of the time.

“It is working so far thanks to the efforts of Becky Frank, Russ Florence and others,” he says. “I also get tremendous support from my wife, Norma.

“This is a great time to be alive and to be working in the Tulsa region. I challenge everyone to get involved either through the Chamber or through other civic and professional organizations.”

Updated 03-29-2006

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