Regain technology jobs? "I have no idea"


Yesterday evening, I was asked by KJRH to tape a brief interview about the Vision 2025 campaign "taking the show on the road". There was a "town hall meeting" at the Broken Arrow Library sponsored by Leadership Broken Arrow.

I met the Channel 2 team at the library and decided spur of the moment to stay for part of the meeting. Only the yeasayers were invited to make a presentation. The head of the Broken Arrow Chamber of Commerce (can't recall his name, but he bears a remarkable facial resemblance to Susan Savage) was the MC.

First on the agenda was a video infomercial, featuring "ordinary Tulsans" urging a yes vote and predicting dire consequences if we vote no. The infomercial featured schmaltzy background music, designed to manipulate the viewer's mood.

(If your civic organization has scheduled one of these "town hall" meetings, thinking it's going to be a balanced, neutral informational presentation, you're in for a surprise. If you want your members to get a balanced perspective, insist that your officers invite a representative from the opposition to speak at the same meeting. Call 836-0142 or e-mail to schedule a speaker.)

Next, Mickey Thompson, head of economic development for the Metro Tulsa Chamber, spoke about the Boeing and American Airlines propositions. He began with a chart showing that Tulsa's unemployment rate now matches the national average, after lagging a couple of points behind for most of the last five years. He said that the Tulsa region has lost 28,000 jobs over the last two years.

After a bit more, in which he mentioned layoffs at WorldCom and Williams, I raised my hand.

[I did not have a tape recorder, so this is my best recollection of how the conversation proceeded.]

"Mickey, how many of those jobs lost were related to aerospace?"

"Oh, I don't know, maybe about 2,000." After a wary pause, he continued. "What's your point?"

"We're going to spend a billion dollars if this thing passes, and a large chunk of it is going to try to lure aerospace jobs to Tulsa. Is there anything in this package to address the other 26,000 jobs we lost? Is there anything here to try to regain the kind of jobs we lost at WorldCom and Williams?"

"No. The opportunity we have right now is to attract Boeing and keep American. At some time in the future there may be an opportunity to attract IT [information technology] jobs and we'll pursue that aggressively when the time arises. I have no idea what we can do right now to regain those jobs."

"If an opportunity arises in the future, how would we finance an incentives package to attract IT jobs? Would we go to the voters with another tax increase?"

"I sincerely doubt voters would have the appetite for another tax increase."

"Thank you for making my point."

(Sarcastically.) "Well, I'm glad I helped you make your point."

My point, in case you missed it, is that all the money we're spending will not help the segment of the economy most damaged by the current economic crisis. It will not keep our high-tech workers from being scattered to the four winds. And if we do have a chance to pursue high-tech jobs, we won't have the money to go after those jobs aggressively, because we'll have already committed a billion dollars to Vision 2025.

Imagine an F5 tornado cut a wide swath through Tulsa, from Carbondale to Catoosa, destroying thousands of homes. Then imagine that our city leaders announced that all the Federal relief money would go to rebuild one neighborhood in a flood plain; nothing would be spent on damaged homes in any other part of the city. The city leaders might say, "Rebuilding homes in this neighborhood will stimulate the economy, which will indirectly help the other folks who lost their homes. Never mind that the rebuilt houses are likely to be flooded." The Boeing deal involves the same kind of thinking.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 6, 2003 8:13 PM.

McGuire on technology was the previous entry in this blog.

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