Oklahoma City, Joining the Big Leagues

World Magazine

Not long ago Oklahoma City was just another small city in flyover country, perhaps best known as the site of the deadliest pre-9/11 terrorist attack in U.S. history, the 1995 bombing of a federal building that killed 171 people (including three unborn children).

But today Oklahoma’s capital city, with its low cost of living, low unemployment, high level of entrepreneurial activity, and exciting young NBA team, “could represent the future of America,” according to Atlantic senior editor Derek Thompson.

City native Patrick B. McGuigan, who edits the online news website CapitolBeatOK, credits the resurgence to a mix of responsible tax-financed improvements and major private investments over two decades — all “without resort to city income taxes or Detroit-style property tax hikes.”

Many churches and ministries are also active. Doug Serven, pastor of City Presbyterian, a new church plant downtown, says more Christians “care about Oklahoma City: not just saving souls, but entering into the city and its brokenness and joy, incarnating with the belief that Jesus really does change things.”

The Spero Project, for example, mobilizes Christians for ministry to marginalized women, families affected by foster care, international refugees, and more.

The 111 Project (1 church, 1 family, 1 purpose) aims to leave no Oklahoma child without a family, and is recruiting foster families from area churches. The Good Shepherd Catholic School, a new school for autistic children, is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation.

Doing its part is Hobby Lobby Stores, the Oklahoma City-based arts-and-crafts retailer, which last year increased its own minimum wages for employees for the third year in a row. Though the federal (and state) floor is $7.25 per hour, Hobby Lobby increased its minimum wage to $12 per hour for full-time hourly employees. Founder and CEO David Green, who closes his stores on Sundays, emphasizes “biblical principles, including integrity, service to others, and giving back to those in need.”

Oklahoma City has its problems, of course. The Family Research Council found that only 42 percent of Oklahoma children reach the age of 17 with both their biological parents married. The city’s central location makes it a hub for human traffickers.

The Global Report Card noted that if you picked up the Oklahoma City school district and dropped it into Finland, the average Oklahoma City student would be at the 9th percentile in math achievement.

But thanks in part to a robust oil and gas sector, Oklahoma City’s unemployment rate of 5.5 percent is well below the national rate of 8.2 percent.

When Margery Turner, vice president for research at The Urban Institute, recently graded the nation’s 100 biggest metropolitan areas on “how much economic security they offer families in these tough times,” Oklahoma City topped the list.

Note: Dutcher is editor of Perspective Magazine, a publication of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. This article is from the March 10, 2012 edition of World Magazine (www.worldmag.com). It appears along with essays on Indianapolis and Tampa. It is reprinted with permission.