Now in his third term as Mayor, Mick Cornett, admits that Oklahoma City has not always been the kind of place you wanted to show off to visitors. "The decade of the 1980s was just a horrible time in the state of Oklahoma and a pretty gloomy time in Oklahoma City," Cornett says. An entire generation of leadership was lost to Texas and coastal cities when they couldn't, or didn't want to, find jobs in Oklahoma City.
Improvements began in the 1990's, when the region passed a limited penny tax to finance the MAPS Initiative (Metropolitan Area Projects). The original goal was to improve the quality of life for existing residents, but 20 years later Oklahoma City finds itself attracting new business and residents. People from California, Texas and the east coast are finding their way to OKC, Cornett says. "Now we're attracting that human capital. That's going to be the key to economic development because no longer do people follow jobs. Jobs follow people. We're succeeding now because we're attracting the top human capital available."
Cornett credits Oklahoma City's ongoing success, simply, with increasly high standards. Standards for health (he famously put OKC on a diet in 2007), standards for landscape and design, and standards for business. Describing the city's efforts to improve walkability and create vibrant public spaces, Cornett points out:
"When the city developed higher standards...what you see is that the businesses in the community want to reflect those standards or maybe even exceed them. So it feeds on itself. When you have a city of low standards you're going to have businesses that exude that same quality."
Thanks to Jessica Brent