Reihan Salam flags an article by Mick Cornett, the mayor of Oklahoma City, who credits the city's outstanding economic performance to their commitment to "investing in ourselves":

We knew we had great people. We had a low cost of living, good schools and were considered a great place to raise a family. But we lacked the quality-of-life amenities that separate good cities from great cities.

Oklahoma City decided to change that.

Cornett's point is to promote the city's Metropolitan Area Projects (MAPS) initiative, a capital-improvement program under which the city implemented a modest hike in the sales tax, and dedicated the proceeds to various projects, including an indoor sports arena that is now home to the OKC Thunder. The first MAPS proposal barely passed, he says, but in 2001 and 2009 voters, impressed by the changes, authorized new public commitments. He suggests that other cities do the same:

The bottom line is that we have entered an age when local communities need to invest in themselves. Federal and state dollars are becoming more and more scarce for American cities. Political and civic leaders in local communities need to make a compelling case for this investment.

Cornett even suggests that this is why Oklahoma City's unemployment rate is so low--4.5%, the best of all the cities with more than a million people. This is where a clarification is needed.

Oklahoma is a wonderful state, and Oklahoma City is more fun than you would think. I've been going there regularly, though not frequently, for years, and even to a casual observer, the difference is palpable, and appreciable.

However, I can guarantee you that no one is moving from Texas or California to Oklahoma City because they want to hang out at Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill (which is, again, more fun than you would think, but still). The fundamental reason that Oklahoma City is booming, economically, is because Oklahoma is booming, and Oklahoma is booming because of energy, specifically natural gas. Oklahoma City also has a couple other things going for it. It is the capital of the state, home to Oklahoma State University, lots of land, and as Mr Cornett mentions, a low cost of living.

That doesn't mean that the MAPS initiative isn't worthwhile; it might be worthwhile precisely because the boom means that this is a moment at which the city can afford to make these investments, which improve the quality of life for the voters who authorize them. In the absence of a boom, however--energy or otherwise--the MAPS initiative would be a tougher sell, and a city that decided to pursue this kind of capital-improvement program would want to consider whether that money couldn't be better spent elsewhere. Having what we might call a good amenities infrastructure, that is, can be an important selling point for a city, but it's often the result of economic development, rather than an effect. 

07/02/2012 12:12

Echoing the point on the new arena for the Thunder, it's been well-established by economic research that sports facilities have little if any net economic impact on a metro area. To the extent that there's a boom in restaurants and bars near a stadium, it's largely just spending that would have occurred elsewhere in the community. Here's Andrew Zimbalist, a prominent sports economist, making that point:

Secondly, to point out a nit, I think that you mean the University of Oklahoma, which is located in the OKC suburb of Norman, and not Oklahoma State. Though perhaps misstating where they are is a purposeful Longhorn dismissal of both of those schools.


Your comment will be posted after it is approved.

Leave a Reply.