by Daniel Regan, Vice President, Kanbar Properties
A little over a decade ago, Tulsa experienced something of a renaissance. I had just moved back to my hometown after living in Costa Rica for a year, and it was clear that the community’s focus had shifted. More exciting was the fact that this change was being led by an energetic group of young leaders who recognized that WE have the ability to shape our lovely metropolitan riverfront community into whatever it is we want. A novel idea began to take hold – “placemaking” (even if we didn’t know what it was at the time) was a participatory activity.
Like Snow in Summer
Like many of our peer cities throughout the South and Midwest in the early 2000’s, Tulsa was in the midst of a true “brain drain” dilemma: skilled, educated talent was moving away at a rapid pace. Despite recent volatility within our historically strong energy industry that sent thousands of jobs out of state, other strong sectors like healthcare, aerospace and manufacturing still offered promising career tracks and good pay to those willing to call our region home. And yet, regardless of record enrollment at many of our community’s local universities, employers found themselves constantly struggling to find the skilled talent they needed. Even then, the problem was obvious to me – our city had the sticking power of snow in summer.
To be candid, most people my age couldn’t wait to catch the next flight out and start their careers somewhere…well, more interesting. While I’m sure general teenage angst contributed to some of that sentiment, I can still clearly remember my friends at the time lamenting Tulsa’s boredom factor. Outside of some beautiful art deco architecture throughout our downtown area, an intriguing history, and a handful of other cultural standouts like Cain’s Ballroom and the Brady Theater; Tulsa circa 2002 didn’t really have much sex appeal.
But then, this beautiful thing began to take shape! Instead of just giving up and moving on, like many of our friends had undoubtedly already done, we decided to step up and be the change we so desperately desired. Grassroots organizations like Tulsa’s Young Professionals began to take hold, ones in which like-minded individuals who were motivated to take action began to impact our city’s collective future. Seemingly simultaneously, civic leaders and our business community began to take bold steps to maintain Tulsa’s competitiveness – investing hundreds of millions of dollars into quality of life improvements.
What’s Happened Since
The tide has begun to turn. The buzz is becoming deafening. Our downtown is now on the cusp of a transformative development boom. Our new BOK Center consistently ranks among the top 20 U.S. arenas for concert ticket sales. We have a world-class riverfront park under development, the largest privately funded public space of its kind in the country. The Woody Guthrie Center built a grand new facility in the city’s burgeoning urban arts district, and we even have a new pop culture museum going up there soon too.
Most impressive though is the fact that young people in my community todayhave the best chance of any recent generation to start a successful new business, take that next step in their career, get discovered on a national level or impact local government and policy-making. With the support of past and present leadership, Tulsa is now harnessing its next generation of innovators and doers, of planners and politicians; it’s quickly becoming a hotbed for leaders.
Over the coming months, I’ll share our decade-strong process at Tulsa’s Young Professionals, and enlighten you on our organization’s trial-by-fire best practices of how to create the community young people desire through connections and engagement with the next generation.