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Class XXIX Session on Economic and Community Development/Water
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Class XXIX Session on Economic and Community Development/Water in Tulsa

Class XXIX was in Tulsa on March 4-5 for their session on Economic and Community Development/Water. The goals of this session were to provide participants with an understanding of the funding, organization, performance and importance of economic and community development activities and issues in Oklahoma. Other activities included discussing the role of state/region/cities and development efforts including jobs, infrastructure, business development and redevelopment. Also included was discussion on major water issues that impact the state’s economy and the lives of Oklahomans.

Read reflections on the session from three Class XXIX members, and view a few photos from the session. Click HERE to view more on Facebook! Click HERE to view more on Dropbox.

After this session, I wonder how many of my classmates would agree that Leadership Oklahoma is not a leadership; but an economic development (ED) class meant to inspire leaders into action.

On my way back from Tulsa, I was reminded how often we compartmentalize “economic development” with just business growth. We flaunt economic progress primarily by measuring the state’s GDP, per capita income, job gains/losses, tax revenue impact – and forget to include other factors not related to wealth creation. 

We get stuck touting the output instead of the outcome, and forget the “why”. 

Why are we learning about education, criminal justice, healthcare, state/tribal government, military installations, tourism, energy, aerospace, agriculture and transportation? To gain better understanding of the issues facing our state and find solutions. But why?

Although there is not a universally accepted definition for economic development, many agree that its purpose is to improve people’s standard of living by creating economic prosperity.  Isn’t this what LOK is trying to achieve?

But to change the fundamental structure of Oklahoma’s economy and create sustainable prosperity, we can’t just focus on business growth; we need the proper infrastructure to support it. This means creating an environment where businesses can flourish as well as investing in education, healthcare, transportation and infrastructure. Now we may disagree on priorities, but we understand that is not an either- or.

Using a simplistic definition of what constitutes economic development is dangerous and takes for granted people’s understanding of the makeup of Oklahoma’s economy, tax structure, and ability to correlate capital investment and job creation with industry diversification, tax revenues, and social program funding.

When people think that economic development activity (tax abatements, incentives and programs) benefits only the business community, as proven by some of the comments made towards the end of the session, the “corporate welfare” mindset is enabled. 

A great example of someone who understood economic development is Aubrey McClendon. Aubrey knew having a successful enterprise that employed hundreds of people wasn’t enough. He knew we needed a city people would be proud of - one that would attract businesses “and people” from all over the world. He saw the business, cultural and social value of doing so. He believed in public-private-partnerships. By leveraging relationships with other business leaders and government officials he orchestrated P3 initiatives like the OKC Thunder and the Boathouse District. These weren’t just business investments – they were community (people) investments.

Erika Lucas, Class XXIX
Vice President Marketing & Communications
Acorn Growth Companies


Like most Oklahomans, I struggle with the appropriate role of government in attracting and maintaining businesses in our State through the use of economic incentives. Is this truly the role of government? Does this amount to “corporate welfare?” And perhaps most importantly, is such spending appropriate as the State faces a billion-dollar shortfall? Against this backdrop, and carrying my own set of biases as a small business entrepreneur, Leadership Oklahoma Class XXIX met in Tulsa to discuss economic development. 

Our session began with an overview of the “Economics of Economic Development,” and a panel of experts who discussed how they attract businesses to their respective mid-size, Oklahoma communities. We learned that a well-reasoned incentive, such as a temporary tax break, running a waterline to an existing building, or simply answering correspondence quickly can be the difference in attracting a major employer to an Oklahoma community, versus losing the business to an out-of-state competitor. Any investor hopes to risk a small amount of capital for a large gain, and that is exactly what is happening throughout our State with incentive plans. Quality jobs are coming to Oklahoma, and the tax bases of those communities are increasing.

We next heard from Warren Ross of Tulsa’s Ross Group, who explained public-private partnerships and how they make otherwise unviable redevelopment projects attractive to investors, developers and future tenants, thus growing the tax base and beautifying our communities. We also heard from two young entrepreneurs who started and are growing their businesses in Oklahoma. They find that the eager workforce, low cost of living and strong community feel make for fertile soil to plant and grow their businesses. It was encouraging to hear them speak with such passion about their how their business ventures began, and where they’re going.

I will admit that I subscribe to Ronald Reagan’s sentiment, when he famously said “The government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases:  If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.” However, I’ve come to appreciate that this maxim does not always ring true at the local level. When communities compete for businesses that provide quality jobs and increase the local tax base, minimal government spending may be necessary and indeed, welcome. As we move past this budget year in the State of Oklahoma, let us all think of ways to diversify, develop and sustain our State economy. It up to each of us to ensure that future generations of Oklahomans have the same or greater opportunity that we enjoy today

Brent Dishman, Class XXIX
Dishman Military Advocates, PLLC



I was very excited about the Tulsa experience this month for several reasons.  Of course, how can you NOT be excited about a ride on a Blackhawk helicopter?  I have also become very interested over the years in water resources.  After all, I live in an area that only received .3” of rain during the great flood of Noah’s day, and the last few years it’s been so dry out here you can see coyotes carrying canteens!

In all seriousness, water resources are a very serious matter for our state.  I certainly appreciated how the Tulsa planning committee was able to structure the topics, discussions and activities for both days when you look at how everything seemed to tie together.  There is, after all, a logical connection between economic development and water resources as our economy would literally dry up without our having access to significant water availability for not only human consumption but also industrial applications.

I have said often that one of the most exceptional privileges of the LOK experience is the opportunity to visit with experts in their respective fields who are so “geeked out” about their profession.  It was such a joy to be able to spend time with Mr. Portiss, the director of the Port of Catoosa, and to see first-hand his passion for our inland waterway and the impact it has on our state.  I hope and pray I can have that level of enthusiasm for my career at his age, and we can only hope to have earned the respect and admiration of our peers that Mr. Portiss has in his field.  And to think our classmate David Yarbrough is preparing to be Mr. Portiss’ successor as director!

Saturday I was a little surprised to see a young man who could be mistaken for a cast member of Duck Dynasty take the podium. I have to admit, I was caught a little off guard at first, but E.J. Oppenheimer turned out to be one of the best presenters of the weekend with his incredible knowledge and passion for agriculture and innovative practices that make a difference around the world.  I am so proud to know an Oklahoman who has a positive impact on his hometown of Tulsa with the right of way project that is good for the environment and provides quality educational opportunities for kids, and who has also dramatically improved the lives of people in the far reaches of Africa and all over the world.

Well done Tulsa!  Thank you for your exemplary hospitality and for giving Class XXIX an unforgettable experience and opportunity to gain invaluable insights into these issues.

Kyle B. Reynolds, Class XXIX
Woodward Public Schools


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