Tulsa Chamber Leader Looks Ahead After Year of Changes

Contributing Writer

Don Sibley, Tulsa Metro Chamber

Mike Neal looks upon 2006 as being, for the greater Tulsa area, both a year of transition and the beginning of something great.
The new president and CEO of the Tulsa Metro Chamber could be easily forgiven the transition part; he moved from a similar position in Nashville, Tenn. in August to take the Tulsa job. Still, he says, there were transitions in a number of different areas whose effects will be seen over time.

“This year, Tulsa elected a new mayor and city council, selected a new school superintendent and the metro region has a new county commission and a change in Chamber leadership,” he said. “The results of which are not yet apparent.”

“Still, I think for the greater Tulsa area 2006 has been a strong year economically. The trend of job growth, per capita income increases and a number of other economic indicators such as housing starts indicate we will start 2007 on a solid footing.

“The metro region is poised for continued growth. We predict existing businesses will account for roughly 80 percent of all new-job creation through 2010. Unlike previous years, the increases are not limited to a few areas but are spread across a broad band of opportunities such as aerospace, energy, health care, hospitality and tourist activity and technological services. I foresee 2007 as not just being strong in Tulsa and the immediate surrounding area, but for all of northeast Oklahoma.”

Tulsa’s current success could be a two-edged sword.

Neal, explains, “We are nearly at full employment in the region and we must be aggressive at retraining employees as well as in attracting new talent. The Chamber had the great foresight to establish Tulsa’s Young Professionals as a major talent attraction initiative. We are also working with educational institutions to convince the best and brightest of their students that excellent opportunities abound in Tulsa.
“This issue,” Neal admits, “is hardly unique to Tulsa. A lot of cities have the same problem and are grappling with ways to handle it.”

Working on the myriad of problems, he says, requires a close association with City Hall. He and Mayor Kathy Taylor either call or e-mail each other several times a day.

“The co-operation between us is phenomenal,” Neal says, and he looks forward to it getting even better. So, he says, is his working relationship with other communities.

“We are all pursuing high paying jobs in the areas I have outlined above,” Neal says. “The object is not just to bring in paying positions but positions paying a substantial amount.”
The wooing of new businesses is, in today’s economy, often a regional rather than a single-city affair. The introduction of Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World in Broken Arrow adds to the coffers of that city, but the store hires citizens and patronizes businesses from the wider area. “In today’s global economy you can no longer have the old ‘beggar-thy-neighbor’ attitude where it is assumed that if one city gets a major boost it proves to be a detriment to a nearby city. Helping each other has become the norm.

“I’ve been extremely impressed with the co-operation between us,” he says. “The Chambers are working together as a region to establish a northeastern Oklahoma state and federal legislative agenda. The region will then go to Oklahoma City or Washington D.C. to present a unified front for its programs.

“I would envision that the Chambers will work together better than ever before. We’ve begun a process of monthly meetings between chamber CEOs and will begin a process in January of extolling a regional coalition of boards and CEOs that will meet on a quarterly basis.

“I anticipate a city and county and regional business community that will do a much better job of collaboratively setting and pursuing regional priorities.”

Two things, Neal thinks, will propel Tulsa through 2007. First is the rising obvious benefit of Vision 2025 projects as they are completed, just as the skeleton of the BOK Center rising downtown has fired the imaginations of Tulsans who pass it.
The second is going to be what is decided to do with the Arkansas River.

“I want to applaud the leaders of The Channels project for spurring a call to action to develop one of the region’s greatest assets—the Arkansas River. Their vision and generous underwriting of a plan is to be commended. Over the next few months I expect a number of proposals will emerge before the public for consideration. It’s too early to foretell which plan will go before the people, but I do feel at this time next year we will have come to a community decision and will be headed in one direction together.”

Randy Ewing of Jenks reflects Neal’s optimism on the Arkansas. “I’m pretty sure we’ll know where we’ll be moving on the Arkansas and that will be a tremendous help.”

He sees 2006 has having been a very good year for Jenks, and not just because the high school football team has returned to its state-championship winning ways.

“We had a record year for building permits,” says Ewing, “and although I don’t expect permits to continue at that pace we have a number of things going that promise to keep Jenks busy through 2007.

“Business is up, and the projects we are working on would be spread throughout Jenks. I can’t comment on them, now, because until an official announcement is made most companies like to work quietly, but we are working on some mid-sized newcomers and at least one big one that would be on the Arkansas south of the Creek Turnpike.”

If Ewing seems optimistic on Jenks Mickey Webb seems almost giddy discussing Bixby.

“When we had our Christmas celebration in 2004 I looked ahead and thought things couldn’t possibly be better in 2005. When 2005 did indeed improve I thought 2006 would surely fall short. Now 2006 is coming in with excellent results and based on the early numbers I see 2007 as being better yet.”

The Bixby high point of the 2006, says Webb, was when the SpiritBank Event Center was announced early in the year. “It’s going to be wonderful: a $60 million arena with a seating capacity of 5,000 for concerts and 4,200 with games.”

The piers have just been poured at 105th and Memorial Ave., just south of the Starworld Theater. Says Tim Remy, whose family is putting up the money for the arena. “We don’t look upon it as competition to the Bank of Oklahoma Center but as an addition. We think the facilities will help each other.”

Webb doesn’t see quite the harmony between the Tulsa and area chambers that Ewing does, but he does admit things could be worse. “I have lived in the Oklahoma City area where you didn’t have a whole lot of cooperation between Chambers. Tulsa is a lot better but not, I think, what it used to be. I’m hoping 2007 will bring us closer together.”

One point of conflict Webb sees is the proposed bridge across the Arkansas River. Proposed as a toll bridge connecting the Yale Avenues on the north and south side of the Arkansas, the location of the bridge has aroused considerable opposition from residential property owners who fear the increased traffic the bridge would bring.

“We’ve got to have the bridge for emergency vehicles,” says Webb, “it’s as simple as that.”

The bridge, the channels, the event center, all will be part of the mosaic that will make up 2007.

Updated 12-18-2006

Back to Top


Back to Top

Contact GTR News

About Post Author