State of the City: Mayor Mick Cornett feels optimism despite low commodity prices

Thursday, January 14, 2016

By Brian Brus
The Journal Record

OKLAHOMA CITY – Residents deserve to feel optimism after a year of accolades and accomplishments, Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said at his annual State of the City address.

“I know there is a sense of caution in the air,” he told the room of about 1,600 without directly identifying the concerns of low oil prices dragging on the local economy. “But remind yourself of the many ways Oklahoma City has prepared for times like this.”

“This is a different city, a more diversified economy, a community that is built on bold ideas,” he said. “Believe me, there’s a lot of cities out there that want to be us: a city where income is rising, unemployment is low, housing prices are affordable and traffic congestion is an occasional inconvenience instead of a daily nightmare.”

The overall theme of Cornett’s address was that the city’s list of accomplishments and national recognition will provide plenty of momentum to help carry the community and its economy into 2016.

“2016 figures to have its share of landmark events,” he said, citing development of the American Indian Cultural Center as an example, as well as hosting the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and several other big tourism and sporting events. “It’s going to be a busy year.”

Cornett began his presentation on a bittersweet note: His mother, a regular attendee of the annual event, died last spring. In her place, he introduced another new granddaughter, Penny.

“I know she is proud of her city,” he said while the girl smiled on the projection screen behind him. “And she should be. As far as she is concerned, we have always had an NBA team, that Devon tower has always been downtown. And the river has always had water.”

"But for most of us, these still feel like new things. They are examples of change, positive change. I don’t think there is a city in the country that has changed more than us,” he said.

Those changes are winning attention, he said. Earlier this month, for example, Oklahoma City was identified with Las Vegas and Hawaii as one of 14 places to visit in 2016, and Entrepreneur magazine listed Oklahoma City at the top of 25 U.S. cities worth moving to launch a business.

Other accolades included real estate services company CBRE/Oklahoma identifying the city as having the fastest rate of growth in technology and the University of Michigan finding Oklahoma City to have the shortest commuting time in the country.

“If you don’t want to move here, Travel and Leisure magazine says you should visit,” Cornett said. “They put us on their list as one of the friendliest travel destinations. In fact, they point out we were number one in the category of ‘least rude’ and ‘least snobby.’”

“So if the category is friendliness, we aren’t likely to thumb our nose at other cities, but we could if we wanted to,” he said.

Cornett only briefly addressed the issue of oil prices affecting the metro area as major energy players and related companies pare down operations. He said the city has a long history of basing its economy on energy – local bank failures in the 1980s triggered a nationwide domino effect – but that has changed as city leaders tried to diversify development. He cited companies such as Boeing, Dell, Hertz and American Fidelity as examples of those efforts.

“So, if you have been wondering, why, when oil prices are down, so much new construction is taking place, that’s part of the reason,” he said. “Only 3 percent of our employee base is in the oil and gas sector. Now, it’s a much larger share of our greater economy than 3 percent because those are some of the higher-paying jobs. But the idea that we can’t survive a reduction in energy prices is an outdated viewpoint.”

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Read The Oklahoman's take on the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber's State of the City event: "In annual address, Oklahoma City mayor praises efforts of nonprofits."