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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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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.

Real estate brokers say the downtown office market occupancy rate is at it's highest level in 30 years and note downtown is home to several thriving companies not present a few years ago. But a new report paints a different picture.

The study by the Brookings Institution, “Job Sprawl Stalls: The Great Recession and Metropolitan Employment Location,” documents the impact of the Great Recession on where jobs are located today in America and charts the shift in employment over three time periods between 2000 and 2010.

While the Great Recession stalled the outward shift of employment — often called “job sprawl” — by 2010, nearly twice the share of jobs (43 percent) were located at least 10 miles away from downtown as within three miles of a central business district (23 percent).

The study shows that Oklahoma City between 2000 and 2010 experienced a job drop of 2.4 percent within three miles of the central business district, a drop of 4.8 percent three to 10 miles of the central business district, and an increase of 7.2 percent from 10 to 35 miles away from the central business district.

Oklahoma City, which spans 622 square miles, experienced the sixth-largest increase in outer-ring share of employment, the report said.

‘Loss' is questioned

Elizabeth Kneebone, author of the report and fellow at Brookings, said the Great Recession of 2008-2009 slowed the gap both locally and nationally. But she notes that even during the recession, downtown Oklahoma City lost about 3 percent in employment while the loss in the outer ring stood at 1 percent.

“In the pre-recession period from 2007 to 2000, the region was growing, adding employment overall,” Kneebone said. “And the core shed jobs slightly … That's what was fueling the overall shift to jobs to the outer ring.”

Jane Jenkins, president of Downtown Oklahoma City Inc., and Blair Humphreys, executive director of the Institute for Quality Communities at the University of Oklahoma, don't question the census data used by Kneebone, but they're uncertain as to where the 6,000 job losses took place.

“I don't think we've seen a loss,” Jenkins said. “This measures from 2000 to 2010. And we seen tremendous growth between 2010 and 2013, especially downtown. So this wouldn't reflect all the growth of Devon Energy, SandRidge Energy or Continental Resources.”

Jenkins, who read the study, noted it shows Oklahoma City has 44.6 percent of its employment within 10 miles of the urban core — 10 points above the national average.

“Even though we have a sprawling community, the jobs center is pretty well contained,” Jenkins said.

Kneebone responds that the picture isn't as rosy when comparing Oklahoma City to smaller metropolitan areas on the list. She adds that only 16 percent of employment outside Oklahoma City's urban core is in densely developed areas.

Is it a true picture?

Humphreys suspects the data falls into a timeline that doesn't represent the true trend of changes in Oklahoma City's urban core. He noted that the city's Metropolitan Area Projects didn't get fully underway until the late 1990s, and the impact of such changes were staggered over the next several years.

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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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