2017 Regional Report: The Southwest

NO. 18 OKLAHOMA

METROPOLITAN INVESTMENTS CREATE A MILLENNIAL MECCA

Devon Energy's new HQ towers above Oklahoma City's skyline.
Devon Energy’s new HQ towers above Oklahoma City’s skyline.

As the main economic driver in the state, Oklahoma City has continually elevated its presence on the national stage through investment in itself as a growing home for millennials. Roy Williams, president and CEO of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, says that over the past 20 years, the city has invested billions in revitalization, transportation and quality of life improvements through Metropolitan Area Projects (MAPS). The projects started in the ’90s and have included public works and infrastructure improvements and the renovation of nearly all the city’s schools.

MAPS 3, a $777 million program that includes a new convention center, streetcar system and quality-of-life enhancements in the city center, will be completed in 2018. Williams says that projects were primarily aimed at improving quality of life for residents, and companies around the country have quickly taken notice.

“We made a conscientious effort to build a better community; and, when you do that, companies will take interest.

The Greater Oklahoma City Economic Forecast found that by 2014, the investments had generated a $5 billion economic impact for the city. “We made a conscientious effort to build a better community; and, when you do that, companies will take interest,” said Williams. More CEOs have been looking to Oklahoma.

In 2012, Devon Energy completed construction of a 50-story, $750 million company headquarters in downtown Oklahoma City. Boeing has also relocated divisions to the area, moving almost 3,000 jobs from Long Beach, California; Wichita, Kansas; and Seattle, Washington. In October, GE opened its global oil and gas research center, the first of its kind.

Paycom Software is also expanding its headquarters and adding another 423 jobs over the next couple of years. While oil and gas is a critical part of the state’s economy, Oklahoma has also been trying to diversify. Urban revitalizations around the state have been attracting millennials and new sector growth.

According to data from Realtor. com, Oklahoma City is the nation’s sixth-top city for millennials. WalletHub also declared it the seventh-best city to start a career, factoring in such things as availability of entry-level jobs, economic mobility and median starting salary.

One such company the city has given birth to in recent years is WeGoLook. The company uses an Uber-style business model with 30,000 field agents to perform inspections of products or assets virtually anywhere in the country. CEO and co-founder Robin Smith credits tech development in the region to a high quality of life, low cost of living and a supportive community. She says seemingly unrelated things like the river walk, bike paths and activities are making Oklahoma City “the place” to be.

“There’s a great support system in the innovation district and the quality of life is really attracting millennials. You tie in the incentives that are bringing in companies and there’s a lot going on,” says Smith. Other initiatives have also driven interest in the state.

Fred Morgan, president and CEO of the Oklahoma State Chamber of Commerce, says workforce compensation reform helped reduce what were previously some of the highest workers comp premiums in the nation. “It’s no longer the number one issue for businesses in our state, which used to make us less competitive,” says Morgan.