Some perspective on the Chamber and economic development


As we approach the hour for a City Council committee to consider an ordinance reforming the Economic Development Commission, I'd like to call your attention to the thorough reporting done by Tulsa Today over the years about the handling of our City's economic development funds. Here's a link to a Google search that turns up most of the relevant articles.

If you're wondering why many Tulsans involved in local affairs have no respect for the Chamber, these articles will help you understand.

Some excerpts from key articles:

In "Jobs Needed Now", from 2003, we learn how the Chamber's leaders plan to grow the economy. Here's some insight into the thinking of Chamber CEO Jay Clemens, who has taken over leadership of the economic development group temporarily, following the departure of Chamber VP Mickey "No Idea" Thompson to Bixby:

Also, as a staff driven organization, the head of the staff is the ultimate boss and according to the New York Times, Jay Clemens, Executive President and CEO of the Metropolitan Tulsa Chamber of Commerce once said a company’s plan to bring 500 new jobs into an area where he held a similar position would “unrealistically drive up wages.” Not a quote to inspire workers of any community.

And here's an evaluation of the Chamber's overall approach:

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.

Chamber officials promised to diversify local economic development efforts after the oil crash in the mid-eighties, but surprise … they did not.Now with the severe local depression within energy, telecommunications, and aviation they are not even promising a different approach.

"Chamber in Decline", from earlier in 2003, reports on the Mayor's plans to scrutinize the city's economic development efforts. I don't recall hearing whether this blue ribbon panel was ever actually empaneled.

In his budget presentation May 1, Mayor Lafortune spoke of the importance of economic development and convention and visitor solicitation efforts saying, “We have many agencies, organizations and city departments who work on economic development, but most do so on their own without a coordinated plan among those entities. Of course, the Tulsa Metro Chamber has the lead on Tulsa’s economic development efforts and receives significant funding from our hotel and motel taxes to accomplish this task. At this critical time in Tulsa’s history, with the economy being the victim of so many hard hits, it is crucial that we go forward with the very best economic development plan possible. With this end in mind, I have asked former city councilor Dewey Bartlett to chair a Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Panel of some of Tulsa’s best business leaders to review the City’s economic development efforts and provide recommendations as to how we can improve, and even consolidate these efforts.”

The article also gives us a glimpse of the inner workings of the Chamber, centered on Chamber CEO Jay Clemens, who does not live in the City of Tulsa, and reports on the Chamber's sales pitch to prospective members:

Last year, Tulsa Today, Inc. considered membership in the Chamber and was visited by such a sales person. She asserted that the Chamber “runs” Tulsa, a surprise to gathered Tulsa Today staff. For anyone knowledgeable of public policy issues, that was an assertion of public corruption. The Chamber is a private lobby group and while they may contract with the City of Tulsa to execute specific functions, they do so only at the will of public officials legally elected by the will of the people as outlined in the United States and Oklahoma Constitutions.

And here's an article from 1998 about the hotel / motel sales tax fund and whether the Chamber was effective at what it had been hired to do.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on October 12, 2004 12:09 PM.

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