The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

24 April 2004

Looking for the next boom

On the per capita income scale, Oklahoma generally ranks fairly low — in 2002, we placed forty-third among the states, same as in 1998. Some of this is offset by housing costs, which are actually bearable in these parts, but by no means are we rolling in it.

The Ackerman McQueen ad agency took out a full-page ad in tomorrow's Oklahoman to recommend a solution. And they're not the first to suggest that we seem to come up with around 1200 bushels for every thousand points of light, either:

Clearly, we lack the gene that makes Texans believe that if it's theirs, it's the best anywhere. Instead, we tend to underestimate ourselves. So we're less annoying, but also less successful.

But let's say the revitalization in our midst fortifies our psyche into doing a statewide about-face. And starts a movement based on admitting how good we are.

No doubt we're doing some serious rebuilding. And how hard is it to be less annoying than (some) Texans?

But, says the agency, we have to start relying on our own resources, rather than looking elsewhere:

Imagine the impact if all purchasing agents, CEOs, CIOs, CFOs and other decision makers in Oklahoma would unite behind one simple goal: to Buy Oklahoma First.

Overnight, it would become the driving force of our economy. We'd enrich our tax base, school systems, public infrastructure and generally elevate our quality of life. We'd gain the sought-after Creative Class jobs our city needs to attract and retain the best and brightest talent.

Dr Richard Florida, guru of the Creative Class movement, was here this spring, and if I'm reading him properly, we can't really buy ourselves a Creative Class: we have to attract one, and that requires not only sprucing up the locations but the local attitudes as well. This doesn't mean we have to do a political 180, necessarily, but it does mean we have to come to grips with diversity in its truest sense: not something imposed from on high, but something that grows from the ground up.

Still, we can't, indeed we shouldn't, try to be the next Austin; we don't have to adopt a manifesto that proclaims to the world how open and free and cool we are. For all of Dr Florida's vaunted research, his favored cities aren't exactly setting economic records. I suspect no city in America has a higher percentage of people who see themselves as creative than does San Francisco, but there isn't anything in the way Baghdad-by-the-Bay is run that I'd want to see replicated in Oklahoma City.

Mostly, we're doing the right things. We spent a whole lot of money on downtown, but it brought in much more from the private sector. Tulsa is getting ready to try a similar formula. As we get used to small tastes of success, the bigger ones won't seem so far away. As Ackerman McQueen says:

All we have to do is have faith in ourselves — and back it up with action.

We'll probably never be as wealthy as, say, Connecticut, the next state up on the population list. On the other hand, we'll probably never have Connecticut levels of taxation, either.

Posted at 5:48 PM to Soonerland

Oklahomans less annoying than Texans? I don't think so!!!

I have a theory about Oklahoma which will probably seriously annoy most Oklahomans but then I was born in Texas so what do you expect. :-) As someone who moved here from elsewhere, I see two things wrong with Oklahoma: (Well, not only two but, the first two that newcomers notice.)

1. The first thing you notice when you move to Oklahoma is that if you don't have three generations of ancestors who were born and raised in Oklahoma you might as well be from Mars. I think it's great for people to be proud of their heritage but native Oklahomans could do a lot more to make newcomers feel welcome.

2. The pervasiveness of religion and religious fanaticism. I'm not knocking religion but frankly most Oklahomans creep me out in this regard. Everywhere I've lived most of the people were somewhat religious but Oklahomans are different. The "creative class" generally are not comfortable with having someone try to "save" them every time they set foot out their front door.

I'm here to stay (I hope) mostly because I'm tired of moving and I do have a nice little, fairly secluded, place in the woods, but I easily understand why people who come from other places, or young people who were born here, might want to get out as quickly as they can.

Posted by: Lynn S at 11:41 AM on 25 April 2004