Monday, April 6, 2009

Out of the woods yet?

I think it's time for some critical evaluations of our hometown. Take a look at these population growth percentages by decade.

1890 4,151
1900 10,037
1910 64,205
1920 91,295
1930 185,389
1940 204,424
1950 243,504
1960 321,599
1970 368,164
1980 404,014
1990 438,922
2000 506,132
Est. 2007 547,274
Ignoring the city's founding, you can see where the initial rapid growth of OKC eventually leveled off after 1940 but picked up speed again. This time not because more free land was opened up for settlement and the opportunities to start new lives; but because the oil business had become more entrenched in OKC. Oil-reliant businesses boomed, too. Banks were established that specialized in financing oil speculation (like the Penn Square National Bank) and manufacturers of oil field equipment boomed. Between 1940 and 1950, OKC grew nearly 20%; Between 1950 and 1960, 32%--can you say Austin, TX?

Then the 1980s came and hard times fell upon Oklahoma. Growth slowed to 8.6% during the 80s and picked back up slightly to 15% for the 90s, and it will barely peek above 10% for the 2000s unless net migration suddenly picks way up. Looking at this population growth, can we honestly say that right NOW in 2008, OKC's economy is back to being out of the recession?

Sure, one can point to all of the great rankings. Most Recession Proof City, in a nutshell. That speaks wonders as a testiment to a city's sound fiscal policies. Mayor Mick should be proud (and is). But on closer examination, can't one conclude that this current recession is leveraged on the collapse of high-finance? Something Oklahoma isn't really effected by. Some of the places most affected by this recession include California, Nevada, Arizona, Florida, and Georgia--some of the states that benefited the most from economic expansion ever since the oil bust. Their economies grew so much that money was being thrown around freely and carelessly, eventually causing chaos in the financial system. In OKC money was never being thrown around freely and carelessly (whether you agree with that or not, everyone agrees there was never a housing bubble here). We were not a part of the high, and we are not a part of the low. But presuming that the rest of the nation's economy recovers soon--where does that leave Oklahoma?

I see two scenarios:
  • The first is one of prosperity, because once the credit markets thaw there will be a lot of money to invest in real estate. Developers will be looking for markets that are deemed very safe, which would be OKC.
  • The second one is one of average plight. OKC goes back to being nothing special, as companies will consider it safe to invest or even "over-invest" in glamorous locations with the best demographics.
The thing that hurts OKC the most is the simple fact: People are not flocking there, and have not for a very long time. There will always be the unfair characterization that the culture is not known for opening up to diversity and the fair characterization that education attainment is lacking in Oklahoma due to the brain drain that sends our college graduates to Texas and New York, among other places.

1 comment:

Blair Humphreys said...

Great post! I think your analysis is right on.