Getting our money's worth from the Chamber?


Over at Tulsa Today, David Arnett asks whether we've been getting our money's worth from the City's contract with the Chamber for economic development:

For the last twenty years or so the primary publicly funded local economic development effort has been conducted by the Metropolitan Tulsa Chamber of Commerce at a cost of over $70 million. Any local expenditure for that long at that level begs the question of value received. Is Tulsa now economically developed and a center for conventions and visitors? That is the objective of the annual contract the Chamber executes in behalf of the City of Tulsa at a rate of approximately $3 million per year. If they are not doing the job, should we fire them?

A few months ago, Chamber Senior Vice President Mickey Thompson took questions at a meeting of the Republican Men’s Club where he publicly asserted that “big business is more important to Tulsa’s economic development than small business.” The crowd groaned as most knew that statement to be false. Big business is defined as more than 200 employees, but the backbone of Tulsa’s economy has always been small business. Economists by the thousands will testify that small business generates faster higher quality economic growth than big business.

What drives the Chamber to focus on big business? When they land a big business, they make a bigger splash. And the pursuit is more glamorous, too. There's more travel, more expensive lunches. It's all much more exciting than lobbying legislators to make Oklahoma a better place for all sorts of businesses.

I wrote back during the Vision 2025 campaign about the importance of small businesses to our economy. Go back and read that.

Recall also that Mickey Thompson confessed during the Vision 2025 campaign that he had no idea how to regain the thousands of high-tech jobs Tulsa has lost over the last few years.

Arnett asks if it's time to give economic development responsibilities to some other organization:

Maybe the City of Tulsa should change contractors. Maybe City Government should execute the function in-house. Maybe Tulsa County should establish an economic development office or with the City create a cooperative effort. Whatever the plan, results are critical. It is proper for public officials to monitor and make organizational changes when necessary to execute this important public business.

If the people of Tulsa County are willing to fund economic development, maybe it is time to get serious. What about a revolving fund that would provide business development loans to local small businesses for expansion and real economic growth? With $350 million (Boeing's package), we could help a lot of local businesses.

And that raises the question of who would control this fund. Handled honestly, it could do a lot of good, but it could also be used to repay political favors.

(I can't remember the details, but for some reason M.Y. Cab, a Tulsa company that made headlines in the '80s, comes to mind. Anyone remember?)

I'll repeat my call for a private venture capital fund for Tulsa entrepreneurs, run by people who understand technology and understand business, with no other purpose than to maximize their investor's return. Make it inexpensive enough so many Tulsans would participate, even if only out of love for our city rather than the expectation of a return on investment.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on March 23, 2004 12:31 AM.

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