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Oklahoma better off than most

By Steve Lackmeyer Published: April 20, 2008
Oklahoma is different.

Nationally, recession alarm bells ring, home values decline, foreclosures skyrocket and unemployment rates climb.

Not in Oklahoma. The state is holding its own, according to experts, analysts, economic surveys, statistics and national rankings:

•Oklahoma's unemployment rate in February was 3.1 percent. Nationally, it was 4.8 percent.

•Oklahoma home values increased by 4.24 percent in 2007. Nationally, the median home price dropped 1.4 percent that year.

•Oklahoma City is 19th out of the 100 largest metropolitan areas on the Forbes 2008 Best Cities for Jobs list.

•Oklahoma was fourth in 2007 for business startups, according to the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity.

The same index has Oklahoma fourth out of 40 real estate markets for corporate expansion or relocation and sixth among the country's best performing markets in terms of retail vacancy, rental rates and development.

RealtyTrac reported in February that the number of foreclosure filings in Oklahoma last year — 13,594 — was down 12.78 percent compared with 2006. The national foreclosure rate increased 80 percent from 2006.

Nobody says Oklahoma is completely in the clear. But the state is in a better position than most.

A history lesson
For many Oklahomans, business is good to very good, but taking a look at how Oklahoma fared in the past helps predict the future.

Jim Shumsky, who owns Junior's, the northwest Oklahoma City restaurant where he was a customer decades ago, looks at both sides of the coin.

"Business (today) is better than ever,” he said.

During the oil boom, he saw as many oil deals made in the restaurant as at the banks.

Shumsky also remembers the crash following those free-spending days of the early 1980s. Oil and gas wildcatters were among the first to lose when Oklahoma's economy crashed in 1983.

Shumsky doesn't see the same thing happening this time.

Times have changed
Roy Williams, president of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, thinks the times are definitely different from the last "boom.” He said energy alone isn't keeping the local market humming.

Likewise, Williams thinks Oklahoma may be immune from the housing crisis that is driving down the national economy.

"We don't have a highly speculative market here,” Williams said. "A lot of other cities have very aggressive speculative builders. We don't. We tend to have highly conservative builders who tend to build for the market instead of what the market might become.”

Oklahoma's economy is also less dependent on manufacturing, which Williams suggests may also add to relative financial stability.

Not all agree
Tim O'Connor argues that the decline in manufacturing hasn't been supplanted with equal or better jobs.

O'Connor, president of the Oklahoma Labor Federation and one of 1,500 who lost their jobs last year at Dayton Tire Co., reports he is making far less working at an insurance agency than the $22 an hour he earned at the plant.

"I was fortunate that I was one of about 400 of us who qualified for the retirement package that was offered,” O'Connor said.

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