Mick Cornett on the Transformation of Oklahoma City

Mick Cornett, the mayor of Oklahoma City, has an interesting take on how his city managed to grow its population and create a flourishing downtown:

The bottom line is that we have entered an age when local communities need to invest in themselves. Federal and state dollars are becoming more and more scarce for American cities. Political and civic leaders in local communities need to make a compelling case for this investment.

The will to invest in our community was born of a need to attract and retain talent that is drawn to urban areas with a quality of place. As Oklahoma City maps its future, creating an urban core that attracts this young, mobile, creative and highly educated talent pool is top of mind. It’s our belief that jobs follow this talent pool and we are certainly seeing evidence of that in Oklahoma City, where in addition to a growing number of corporate career opportunities, we have also been named by the Kauffman Foundation as the most entrepreneurial city in the country, with the most start-ups per capita. Oklahoma City currently has the nation’s lowest unemployment rate (4.5 percent) among cities of more than one million people.

At the same time, we are seeing evidence that the erosion of talent has stopped. According to Census numbers, for the first time we can recall, more people from Texas and California are moving to Oklahoma City than vice versa.

Cornett seems to have a more rigorous, results-oriented understanding of how to engage in public investment, which is more than can be said of most big-city mayors. Oklahoma City realized that it needed more than tax incentives to attract employers. I can’t say I like everything about the city’s MAPS approach, particularly the indoor sports arena and downtown ballpark that were a crucial part of the 1993 MAPS. But the city pivoted beyond that quickly to amenities that could be contribute value on a more sustainable basis.

Cornett, interestingly enough, is a Republican who has toyed with the idea of running for governor of Oklahoma. One wonders if he will emerge as the GOP’s answer to John Hickenlooper.  

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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