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2011 State of the City
Office of the Mayor

Every January, Mayor Mick Cornett speaks to the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of CommerceExternal Link will open in new window on the State of the City. The State of the City message looks back on recent accomplishments, updates the Chamber on current developments and looks ahead to the future.

Mayor Cornett delivered the 12th State of the City message on January 13, 2011.

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First of all, I want to thank the Greater Oklahoma


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City Chamber of Commerce and the signature sponsor, Dorchester Capital, for hosting today’s event and for all that the Chamber does throughout the year.  Carl and Roy, I am frequently in a position to witness the work of chambers from around the country and I can tell you that this Chamber is among the very best.  I would like the Chamber staff that is here today to stand and be recognized.

And I also want to thank my family which is seated down front.

And let’s also show our appreciation to those who prepared and served us lunch today.  I am always amazed at the ability of a group of people to serve a thousand people at once.  Please pass along our thanks to the crew in the back.

We have a lot to be thankful for in Oklahoma City and I would like to thank our City Council. 

Not all of them are here today, but some are, and I’d ask them to stand as I read their names, and please hold your applause till the end.  First of all, Gary Marrs, representing Ward One; Sam Bowman, Ward Two; Larry McAtee, Ward Three; Pete White, Ward Four; Brian Walters, Ward Five; Meg Salyer, representing Ward Six; Skip Kelly, Ward Seven; and Pat Ryan, Ward Eight.

Please remain standing, and would all of our City employees that made it today also stand?  And now would anyone who serves on a City commission, or advisory board, or oversight board, or trust please stand?  Let’s give our Council, our City staff and our community volunteers a round of applause. 

Thank you.

Well it is January of 2011, this is the seventh time that I have had the opportunity to address this audience on the state of the city. Time does march on. I know for some of you, it seems like yesterday, but it’s 122 years since the land run, 101 years since we became the state capital, 69 years since Tinker Air Force Base opened, 29 years since the failure of Penn Square Bank, 18 years since the passage of MAPS, 16 years since the bombing. 10 years since the passage of MAPS for Kids, 6 years since the NBA arrived. And just over a year since the passage of MAPS 3.

With the timeline secure, welcome to the State of the City address for 2011.

 I want to begin today by getting straight to the economy. I find the economics of city government fascinating, and I understand ­­– that’s just me. But bear with me because the local economy affects each of us. It affects our jobs and it affects our ability to create jobs. At city hall, it affects our ability to hire police officers and fire fighters. It affects our ability to build and repair streets.

And frankly, one year ago, I stood before you in the midst of a 15 month period in which our monthly revenue failed to meet the monthly revenue of the preceding year. You don’t have to be an economist to understand this.

You may recall that back in April of 2008, Forbes magazine stated that we were the ‘most’ recession proof economy in the country. Remember they said “most” recession proof. Well, as we suspected, the recession was deeper than Forbes or most other observers predicted. And it turns out that no large city was recession proof. Even us.

Looking back, because our economy had such a blistering pace in 2005, 2006, 2007 and well into 2008, we had momentum that allowed us to enter the recession much later than the rest of the country. And, looking at the data from spring of 2010 until now, it appears that we emerged from it much more quickly.

Look at our year to year growth over the last 9 months …

Keep in mind, that much of this growth is based on a handful of beneficial and perhaps temporary factors.

One, 2009 was so lousy that it wasn’t that hard to do better in 2010. Secondly, there is so much construction, both private sector and public sector that a lot of materials are being purchased and a lot of people are being employed. And thirdly, the hailstorm of May 16 destroyed so many cars and roofs that insurance money had a short term positive influence on our economy.

The good news is that it feels like we are sitting around making excuses as to why our economy is so strong right now. Like we are afraid to believe it.  Look, we have every reason to be cautious. But we also have every reason to be cautiously optimistic.

Because it’s hard to look forward and not see prosperity for Oklahoma City. Now, if the world’s economy should collapse, we’ll be sucked into the calamity. We’re too interconnected to assume we can separate ourselves. If the price of natural gas were to fall considerably from where it is today… you can paint your own worst case scenarios. But the price of a unit of natural gas is already pretty low, and we seem to have moved past the day when our economy lacked any sense of diversification. We’ve spent a couple of decades now diversifying our economy. We have succeeded well enough to be outperforming our peer cities. We must continue to diversify into aviation, the bio-sciences, and tourism. We are scoring successes in these area and we need to keep pushing.

One of the areas where we see continued growth is in tourism and this past year we saw two high profile events in our city. The U.S. Conference of Mayors event was in June and the Creativity World Forum was held in November.

The other mayors from around the country are still talking to me about what a great time they had here. I’m interested, how many in this room, helped out at that event? Raise your hand if your company either sponsored an event or you served as a volunteer. You guys were the stars of the show.
And in November, the Creativity World forum exceeded all estimates on the number of people that were expected to attend. Oklahoma City hosted more than 2,500 people from 35 states and 17 countries during the event’s three days.  The total economic impact to the state of Oklahoma was over $1.2 million.
All in all, a lot of folks are talking about us. And just about all of it is good. Seems like once a month, the national media comes out with a list ranking cities in one category or another, and they like us…

In 2010, we had a banner year for appearing on lists…. Take a look at this… all from the past year:

Oklahoma City is atop all sorts of lists.
Here’s perhaps my favorite. It’s the current standings in the NBA’s Northwest Division. Look at this! Oklahoma City, Utah, Denver, Portland, and Minnesota.
But perhaps the most important number, and it’s validated by our position on those lists, is our unemployment number.

The most-recent Oklahoma City unemployment figure shows a drop to 6.2% from the previous month. OKC has the second-lowest unemployment rate of any large city in the country, trailing only Washington D.C. at 6.0%. Keep in mind, the national rate is 9.4 percent.

Newsweek magazine says about Oklahoma City quote:


 “Oklahoma City enjoys low unemployment as a result of its steadily growing energy and aerospace sectors and has been ranked among the best job markets for young people, ahead of Dallas, Seattle, and even New York.”

You don’t get compared to cities like Dallas, Seattle and New York very easily unless you can compete in the category of quality of life. We have reached big league status in sports with the Oklahoma City Thunder and as many of you know, even though there is no official designation, we have become big league in the arts. The quality of the arts in our community exceeds our visitors’ expectations time after time. And the people that move here, not knowing what to expect from our arts community, tell me over and over again, that they never knew Oklahoma City had such a strong arts community. And just like our basketball team, the ascension in the world of arts is relatively new. Ten years ago, what we offered in the world of arts was pretty average. What we offer today is pretty extraordinary.

And that’s critical to attracting high paying jobs and keeping our unemployment numbers down.

As you saw in that earlier graphic, the city we most often compete against for the lowest unemployment is Washington D.C. and their low unemployment is obviously artificially driven by increases in government jobs. Our low unemployment is not artificial and it’s not an accident. It’s a reflection on smart investments. And yes, it started with the MAPS vote in 1993 and the construction of those nine projects which were completed in 2004. And it has continued with MAPS for Kids which passed in 2001 and is in the final stages of completion.

It is a very busy time in the MAPS for Kids office.

In the Oklahoma City School District alone:

Most of the MAPS for Kids work has already been completed. 21 schools, including the new high schools, are done. A new fleet of buses is on line. And the technology upgrades have been transformational. Over 15,000 computers and different technology devises are in place.

The suburban districts have their own MAPS for Kids projects. To refresh your memory, Over 140 million dollars has been spent in those districts for nearly 450 different capital improvements

Now what about what’s going on inside our schools. Overall, when you look at education in central Oklahoma, it is amazing all of the things we are doing right. Our early childhood education is a success story. Our university system, which in Central Oklahoma includes 120,000 college students, is succeeding. Hard to believe, but about one of out of every 10 people in central Oklahoma is a college student. And if you look at our suburban K-12 education, it’s pretty good. Graduation rates are ahead of the state average. But where we have work to do, like every other major city in the country, is our inner city district.

And if you ask ten people why this is so, you are likely to get ten different responses. A person over here might blame the federal government. A person over here might say it’s the state government. Someone is going to say it’s the teachers. Someone else will blame the administration. Another will claim parents are the problem. Ask ten people what the problem is and someone is going to say poverty. Someone else is going say immigration. And still another will say the problem is the result of decisions made by judges decades ago.

But none of that finger pointing is going to get us very far. Here is what I believe will get us heading in the right direction.

First of all, changes in state law on several fronts, and I know this means some pretty drastic changes and is going to create a lot of turf issues but that’s too bad because what we’re doing now isn’t working.

Two, the continued benevolence of our philanthropic community, I firmly believe they will be there, when we have a defendable system in place.

And three, the acknowledgement that if you live in this community, this is ‘your’ problem and we’re going to need ‘your’ help to fix it. But fix it, we will.

Meanwhile, our police department is more active than ever in combating truancy. We believe that this effort which works with the schools and gets the police more actively involved can, in turn, get families more engaged in their kids’ education. We’ve got to keep kids in school.  A kid on the streets, either as a truant or a drop-out, is much more likely to wind up in prison or worse.  We are committed to battling truancy and the resulting social consequences. We are committed to education. We are committed to our young people.

We have great success stories in our community taking place at the City Rescue Mission and other groups that are caring for people who need a helping hand. The generosity in our community is inspiring.

We are also working to raise the level of attention given to our 2-1-1 center.  2-1-1 is the phone number to call when you need help and don’t really know whom to call.  People who need help with issues involving mental illness or domestic violence can call 2-1-1 and they will get directed to the resources available.  I believe if more people knew about 2-1-1 we could cut down on the number of times our police officers were called into action to deal with mental illness and domestic violence.  We need people to seek help earlier.  2-1-1 is a great system to get people the help they need.  It doesn’t cost the caller anything.

Speaking of things that are free … Don’t forget about our website: Now beginning its fourth year, you can become one of the 44,000 people that have gone to our website pledging to lose weight or reporting the weight that you’ve already lost. So far, it’s been pretty amazing. Those 44,000 people, including me and I’m sure a lot of people in this room, have lost 643,000 pounds. That’s about 15 pounds apiece. We’ve received world-wide attention for this. Our no-nonsense message about obesity is that it’s about what you eat and how much you eat. Should you exercise? Of course you should. Everyone should. But if you or someone you know is obese, you shouldn’t think that you can exercise your way out of it. You must look at your diet and nutrition. The website has some brand new features that make it easier for groups to get involved which is great because changing your eating habits is going to be easier if you are doing it with other people. So, employers, have your HR people go to the website and become a part of it. Or, have them call me at city hall and I’ll explain how easy it is. This new group function will work for church groups and neighborhood associations. So help us out and push this idea to your friends and co-workers. The web address is

Let me tell you now about a local person who three years ago, heard this message, and went to the website.

Let me show you a picture of Amy Petty. She started eating differently. She started going to the gym.

Now, let me show you a picture of her last April in the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. She ran the half marathon … 13 miles.

She’s lost over 200 pounds.  One pound at a time. It’s an amazing story of one person taking control of her life.

And she is here with us today. Let’s show some appreciation for Amy Petty, who’s sitting with my family this afternoon.

The website address, again, is s             

Now, let’s quickly take a look at MAPS3.

The vote was just over a year ago. As you will recall it is a penny on the dollar for seven years and nine months. We just finished the nine months so roughly seven years to go on the revenue collection. Good news on the revenue side is that because our economy has been so strong in the last half of 2010, we are already five million dollars ahead of projections. That’s where you want to be because we know the economy runs in cycles.

So, here’s where we are.

$65 million dollars has been collected so far.

We have eight projects in the initiative.

We have an eleven person citizen advisory board that has been meeting since summer
and sub-committees for all eight projects are in place.

As was the case with MAPS and MAPS for Kids, we have hired a consulting group to help manage cash flow and help layer the construction time of each of the projects.

Let me give you an update on each of the eight projects in MAPS 3 in alphabetical order:

The convention center: The subcommittee is working with a consultant to determine the best site.

The Fairgrounds: The subcommittee has held its first meeting. They are looking at an updated master plan for the fairgrounds improvements.

The Park: Land acquisition is fully underway and should be completed soon. I would anticipate park construction to begin in 2012 and be completed by 2014.

The river improvements for canoe, kayak and rowing: We have some national events coming and the advisory board is looking into funding two projects up front – the race course windscreen and the lighting for night races.

Senior Wellness Centers: City Council has asked the citizen advisory board to consider making the early construction of at least one of these centers a priority.

Sidewalks and Trails: Our staff and the subcommittee are working on the best locations.

The Street Car: The Alternative Analysis committee is working on a recommendation for a route and the hub study, which will help determine the site of our multi-model transit hub, should have a recommendation this spring.

Remember, the way we fund our MAPS projects, we don’t spend the money until we’ve collected the money. So, there’s no debt, we pay cash and usually even generate a little interest revenue. With MAPS, the last project opened five years after the funding ending. It’s going to be a similar timeline with MAPS for Kids. So, the expectation with MAPS 3 should be projects rolling out between now and 12 years from now in 2023.

In the meantime, we have plenty to do. Maps for Kids and MAPS 3. Project 180 – which near as I can figure gets its name from the fact that we’re trying to do 180 things all at once.

The interstate 40 relocation. The arena improvements and all of the street improvements that are a part of the last bond issue.

I remember a few years when we were improving the airport, I noted that it was really difficult to operate the old airport while you are building the new one at the same time at the same location. The logistics of that are really tough. Now it seems that since that went relatively well, we just decided to do that to downtown. We’ll go ahead and work and live and play in downtown while we build a new one right on top of it. Welcome to 2011.

And as you know, it’s not just government building things, far from it. All three of our largest energy companies are investing and expanding their campuses. Boat houses are opening up on the river. New housing projects and hotels are coming out of the ground.

A few minutes ago I mentioned an article in Newsweek magazine which placed us on a list of the top ten cities which best avoided the recession. The final paragraph of the story is this…

Quoting from Newsweek.

“Of course none of the cities in Newsweek’s Top 10 list competes right now with New York, Chicago or L.A. in terms of art, culture, and urban amenities, which tend to get noticed by journalists and casual travelers. But once upon a time, all those great cities were also seen as cultural backwaters. And in the coming decades, as more people move in and open restaurants, museums, and sports arenas, who’s to say Oklahoma City can’t be Oz?”

So as you leave the Cox Center today, watch out for Wicked Witches and Flying Monkeys. I would joke for you to look for the Yellow Brick Road … but you’d probably settle for any downtown road as long as it was not under construction.

Thank You for coming. And God bless you all.

Mayor Cornett's biography