The playing field levels as more businesses and young professionals return to OKC

Monday, July 27, 2015

By Ben Felder
The Oklahoma Gazette

For decades, America’s top-tier cities represented a handful of metropolitan regions that seemed to have a monopoly on innovation and culture. Cities like Oklahoma City, in the heart of “fly-over country,” lacked a seat at the table when it came to world-class entertainment and cutting-edge business. Even simpler facets of urban life, such as specialty coffee and trendy boutiques, were things Oklahoma City residents only enjoyed when visiting larger cities.

But cities like OKC seem to have more in common these days with larger metropolises and cultural hubs in a way they never did before.

Portland, Oregon, is a specialty coffee capital, but Oklahoma City has its fair share of high-end cafes. Silicon Valley remains the hub of tech startups, but app programmers and software creators are finding success in central Oklahoma.

Even Kevin Durant has shown that you no longer have to play in New York or Los Angeles to be a world-renowned athlete.

“These smaller-but-major metros are now realistic choices for educated young people with big aspirations,” wrote Aaron Renn in an article for Governing about the opportunities smaller cities now have. “It’s no surprise, then, that Salt Lake City is home to a huge Goldman Sachs office. Or that Apple has a large presence in Austin, Texas. Or that JPMorgan Chase & Co. employs more than 20,000 people in Columbus, Ohio.”

Renn was in OKC earlier this year to speak at the annual Mayor’s Development Roundtable, and his message was OKC had the opportunity to offer amenities that were once limited to America’s megacities.

“I can tell you that in 1992, moving from Chicago to Indianapolis would have basically been like being sent to Siberia,” Renn, who is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, said during his Oklahoma City speech. “You couldn’t get a decent meal [in Indianapolis], you couldn’t get a good cup of coffee, the type of life you could get in Indianapolis versus Chicago was just night and day. But Indianapolis today has more and better stuff than Chicago did in 1992.”

The urban playing field is much more level today, said Renn, as cities like “Oklahoma City, Columbus, Kansas City, Charlotte, Nashville are now in the game for development and business in a way [they] never were before.”

This shift helps OKC retain some of its younger residents or get back those who fled years ago for more interesting places to live.

“You can do anything from anywhere now, and that wasn’t always the case,” said Candace Baitz, a development manager at David Wanzer Development in OKC. ...


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