Study shows 'job sprawl' in Oklahoma City, drop in downtown employment

Local observers say they're a bit surprised by a new Brookings Institution report that indicates that Oklahoma City's urban core lost more than 6,000 jobs this past decade, one of 91 of the country's largest metro areas that saw a loss of downtown employment.
by Steve Lackmeyer Modified: April 17, 2013 at 9:55 pm •  Published: April 18, 2013
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The only major job loss he could recall were the few hundred jobs lost when Kerr-McGee was acquired in 2006 by Houston-based Anadarko Petroleum.

“This study does a good job at catching something that is happening at a national level,” Humphreys said. “But it doesn't appreciate the nuances of what is happening in Oklahoma City today. It shows us losing 6,000 jobs within three miles of downtown. You can ask brokers — there is no way we've lost 6,000. But keep in mind the last three years have been really good for downtown.”

The employment bounce includes expansion of the Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Devon Energy and SandRidge Energy, and the relocation of Continental Resources from Enid. Smaller firms ranging from BlueKnight Energy and Saxum, both with about 30 employees, with many smaller creative and energy firms, also have relocated downtown in the past few years.

Downtown growth

Saxum CEO Renzi Stone believes the influx of employment into the urban core is going to continue to grow, and not drop as suggested by the Brookings report.

Saxum made the move to an address along downtown's Automobile Alley in February 2011, from the Waterford office park at NW 63 and Western, considered to be one of the city's most exclusive suburban addresses.

“In 2004, when we moved into the Waterford, it was a vanity address,” Stone said. “It was the main reason we moved there. As the company grew and established, it was less about vanity of address and more about function of the work that we do. I wanted to be where the action was.”

Downtown, Stone said, met those goals.

Kneebone said her studies do not see a reversal in the trend — unless policy decisions ensue.

The ramifications she lists include whether the workforce can access growing employment, the availability of public transit and increases in traffic congestion.

“Building a healthy and sustainable regional economy is not just about growing jobs, but also about where those jobs locate,” Kneebone said.

“It's possible a region may see growth in the urban core as in the outer ring,” Kneebone said. “The question is; ‘how is that happening?' Growing outward isn't necessarily a negative in and of its own. But the challenge is to answer how is that happening — is it in a low density, spread-out way? How do you connect those jobs with transit? And if transit isn't able to reach those jobs, then you have more people driving, more traffic congestion.”

Humphreys believes Oklahoma City is making some of the policy decisions that may address those concerns — but agrees many challenges lie ahead.

He cites the MAPS initiatives, the discussion of walkability, and encouragement of urban infill development as some of the steps being taken by civic leadership over the past several years.

“There is no doubt Oklahoma City continues to sprawl,” Humphreys said. “But while we are still building out, we are also building up and filling in.”

by Steve Lackmeyer
Business Reporter
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter and columnist who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's Metropolitan...
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This study does a good job at catching something that is happening at a national level. But it doesn't appreciate the nuances of what is happening in Oklahoma City today. It shows us losing 6,000 jobs within three miles of downtown. You can ask brokers — there is no way we've lost 6,000. But keep in mind the last three years have been really good for downtown.”

Blair Humphreys,
Executive director of the Institute for Quality Communities at the University of Oklahoma

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