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2013 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 14th State of the City message on January 24, 2013.

Thank you Pete, and welcome to the State of the City address for 2013. It is nice to see such a good crowd.

Why don’t we begin by thanking those that prepared and served us lunch? Always amazing to see so many people served on such a timely basis.

We will spend the next few minutes discussing the ‘last’ 12 months and the ‘next’ 12 months. Sometimes it’s interesting to reflect back on what ‘was’ accomplished and what was ‘not’ accomplished. For instance, I was hoping that 2012 would be the year that I convinced my mother she might be happier if she left her house and moved into a retirement center. It was a goal of mine. I note at the end of the year, not only was she still in her house but she bought new carpet. So, some goals don’t get accomplished, and you just push them onto the next calendar year.

I can’t discuss 2012 though without showing you a picture of my new grandbaby.
This is Fern. When this picture was taken, I had just given her an update on MAPS 3. She is very excited.

Fern is kind of a unique name. I also find it interesting, that my two granddaughters: Fern and Lily are both named after plants. I think it makes me the greenest mayor in America.

Again, welcome to the state of the city address. Like in the past, I worked on this speech off and on for a couple of months. But when I was going over it in the last 48 hours, it seemed like I had put in too many numbers. As if, you all are going to take notes, and I am going to give you a test later. In trying to figure out why I did that, I came up with this. You probably hear me referring to these times as the Golden Age or talking about the Renaissance that we’re experiencing. Sometimes, it seems like things are going so well that I feel like I need to validate it with metrics. So there’s a lot of numbers coming up in the next few minutes. I hope one of your takeaways is this: Yes, good things are happening so I should enjoy it, appreciate it, and learn from it. Because it won’t last forever.

Let’s begin by putting our city’s timeline in perspective. It is 2013. 124 years since our great grandparents drove stakes into the ground on this very site and others nearby during the land run. 103 years since Oklahoma City became the state capitol. 85 years since oil was discovered in Oklahoma City on Southeast 59th street. 71 years since Tinker Air Force Base began operations. 31 years since Penn Square Bank failed. 20 years since the first MAPS initiative was passed by the voters. 18 years since the bombing of the Federal Building. 12 years since the passage of MAPS for Kids. 8 years since the NBA arrived. And just over 3 years since the passage of MAPS 3.

Time flies, doesn’t it? Think about this. If you are, say 15 years old and living in Oklahoma City. You probably think we’ve always had an NBA team. You probably think that the ballpark has always been downtown. And you probably think the river has always had water.

In the grand scheme of our city’s timeline, these are new events. But with each passing year, the generation that made these things happen—and that’s you—must realize that we are only setting the stage for greater things to come. So when the 15 year olds take over, and it will be sooner than we want to admit, they are creating a city that we cannot even dream of today. It’s a lot to ponder.

Before we go any further, I want to thank a few people that are in the audience today. We have the best city council in America and several members of the council are here. Please stand as I call your name.

First of all, Gary Marrs, representing Ward One; Ed Shadid, Ward Two; Larry McAtee, Ward Three; Pete White, Ward Four; David Greenwell, Ward Five; Meg Salyer, representing Ward Six; Skip Kelly, Ward Seven; and Pat Ryan, Ward Eight. Please join me in thanking this group who put in countless hours serving on boards and committees, and attending neighborhood meetings. There is no better city council in the United States.

And we have a great city staff. I wish I had time to name them individually but if you work for the city of Oklahoma City, would you please stand so we can show our appreciation.

And this event is sponsored by the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, charged with helping to create jobs and improve the quality of life in Oklahoma City and they do a masterful job. Pete Delaney is the current chair. Roy Williams is the President and CEO. I suspect most of the audience works for a company that is a member of the Chamber. But let’s see. If your business is a member of the chamber of commerce, would you please stand so we can thank everyone that is supporting this wonderful organization. We have had a great chamber since 1889 and that’s certainly true today.

If you see new faces in the audience, that is to be expected. According to the census bureau, our population growth is currently twice its’ traditional rate. What that means is that every month, over 2,000 new people are moving into the Oklahoma City metro. The city’s population is now around 610,000. The metro is about 1.3 million.

And you have seen signs of the city’s growth at nearly every turn. Seemingly all of our energy companies are expanding their buildings and campuses. Thousands of new housing units, and several new hotels, especially downtown, are under construction. In 1999 we had just under 400 hotel rooms downtown. Now we have over 2,000. And there’s another 600 under construction or soon to be under construction.

We are building new schools, we are planning new modes of public transportation, we are expanding our roads, and welcoming in new retail stores that did not consider us before. Our per capita income is going up, which should help us in areas that we have traditionally struggled like health and education.

But with the growth, there are growing problems. It feels like domestic violence is increasing, our homicide numbers are going up. Difficult to tell about the number of homeless in our city, we appear to have the resources to address it, but it doesn’t appear to be getting better. A lot of people are in need of some level of help. We served over 2,000 people at the Red Andrews Christmas Dinner this year. So much accomplished. So much more to do.

Let’s talk about the economy. While many large cities are still struggling to match the productivity they had reached five years ago, our economy is performing extremely well. In fact, I don’t believe there’s another metro economy in the country that is keeping up with us. We currently have the lowest unemployment rate in the United States. And we had the lowest rate of unemployment last month, and the month before that, and the month before that, and the month before that, and the month before that. We’ve had the lowest unemployment rate 19 out of the last 23 months.

Our employment growth rate is double the national average. The leading sectors are: energy, professional services, and retail trade. Each of those three sectors is growing at more than a 7 percent annual clip. Our growth in jobs is one of the largest in the country. We are set up to succeed but going forward, to continue this momentum, it’s going to be critical that we continue to look for, and prepare sites appropriate for businesses looking to relocate or expand into Oklahoma City. The city and the chamber are going to need to be actively involved in getting sites ready so we can take advantage of our opportunities.

I mentioned a couple of minutes ago that our population was increasing at twice the traditional rate. Inside Oklahoma City limits, we are gaining about 1,000 new citizens a month. In the larger metro, we are gaining about 2,000 new citizens a month. Think about that, 2,000 people a month moving into the metro area, and yet our employment rate is going down. These new people are obviously finding jobs.

One good indicator of the local economy is measured by local sales tax. That shows whether or not, consumers have confidence in their own lives. It reflects if businesses are growing. Our sales tax numbers last year were in record territory. This year, we are up 9% over last year. Some of those new dollars are going to new retailers. In the past year, we have seen new investment from retailers like Dave and Busters, Anthropologie and Dick’s Sporting Goods. And there’s more to come in 2013.

The national media is certainly recognizing what is going on in Oklahoma City. I’d like to take a couple of minutes to look at some of the attention we collected in 2012.

Back in January, a management consulting firm named Zinnov concluded that companies could save 20-25% if they headquartered in places like Oklahoma City. They placed us number two in the nation on their list of emerging mid-sized cities.

Also in January, Forbes looked at which cities had the best potential for real estate appreciation. They examined the entire country and placed us in the top 10.

Then we heard from a national company called Career Bliss. They surveyed 43,000 employees across the United States and asked them if they were happy with their jobs. We ranked number three in the entire country for happiest city for work.

Every year, Fortune Magazine runs a poll determining the best places to work. Three of our Corporate Headquarters made the list: American Fidelity Assurance, Chesapeake, and Devon. In fact, all three not only made the list of the top 100, they were all three in the top fifty.

In Washington, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics did the math to determine how many cities had successfully bounced back from the recession. As of February, only 13 cities had. We were one of them.

The Bureau also looked at which cities were building their manufacturing base. We had jumped over 5% year to year and were ranked in the top ten.

In March came word from a publication called Business Journal. They were trying to determine which cities were growing in the world of arts and entertainment. We were in the top 10%. They said we now have 8,000 people employed in the arts and entertainment. Proof once again, that our commitment to the arts is paying large dividends to our efforts in economic development.

Also in March, an employment services firm named Manpower surveyed 18,000 employers across the country and came up with their list of “Best Cities for Jobs.” We ranked fourth in the nation.

In April, the national polling firm Gallup released its’ job creation numbers. The number one city, nationally, on their list for job creation? Oklahoma City. And it wasn’t even close.

Also in April, KPMG, the big accounting and auditing firm, created an index to locate the least costly city to do business. They looked at 13 mid-sized cities across the country and ranked us number one.

On April 30th a report by Garner Economics was issued. It examined every metro economy of over a million people, to look at earnings growth. We were number one, beating out New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, every big city out there. Number one in earnings growth.

In May, Forbes Magazine published a couple of important lists: One, best cities for jobs overall, and two, best cities for recent college graduates to find a job. We were top ten on both lists.

In June there was an article published in CNN-Money Magazine. Over 6,000 small businesses were surveyed and the number one “most business-friendly city in the United States” is Oklahoma City. They cited two important factors-our low cost of living and the large number of young college graduates choosing to live here.

One of our goals in this city is to try and keep our young people. In July, a website called “Moving”.com ranked its’ best cities for millennials. In the entire country, we ranked sixth. Not too bad. And they tout three aspects of life in Oklahoma City that appeal to millennials: low employment rate, cost of living, and our nightlife. That’s right! The nightlife in Oklahoma City is considered a strength of our quality of life. Makes me want to stay up past ten o’clock sometime. See what it’s like.

Here’s a list you may not have heard about. In August we learned that Scientist magazine ranked the best places to work in Academia. The Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation and the University of Oklahoma Health Science Center both placed among the top 25 in the country.

Now, you may have wondered to yourself, where is the best place on earth for oil and gas investment? The answer, according to the Global Petroleum Survey conducted by the Fraser Institute is: Oklahoma City.

Our city is also becoming more educated. A magazine called New Geography measured increases in the number of college graduates. We are in the top 20. And we are four points above the national average.

In August, Business Journal magazine issued its’ index for economic strength. They touted both our low unemployment and our high private sector job growth. Oklahoma City is number one. Strongest economy in the country according to Business Journal. And we stayed number one in September, October, and November. Still waiting for December’s numbers.

The U.S. Census Bureau has its’ eye on us as well. They follow growth in household income. As a state, Oklahoma finished number one in the country. Our median household income grew over 12 percent. We were two points higher than any other state in the country.

A couple of other notes.

In October, ESPN ranked the Top Franchise in Professional Sports. This includes baseball, football, basketball and hockey. 122 teams in all. They looked at performance on the field of play but they also look at fan appreciation, the team’s commitment to the community, the quality of the ownership group. The number one franchise in Professional sports The Oklahoma City Thunder. The Green Bay Packers finished second.

One final list…. It’s the current standings in the NBA’s western conference… (or northwest division) and we’re number one again.

I mentioned earlier that our revenue at city hall largely comes from sales tax. The next obvious question is: well, what do you spend it on? Pretty easy answer. Two thirds of our general fund revenue is spent on Public Safety. They largest amount goes to police, the second largest department is the fire department.

Over the years, we have invested in a lot of fire-fighting equipment and it’s paying off. There is an organized group that judges a fire department’s ability to put out fires in rural parts of the city. They test us. Last time we went through this procedure was 20 years ago and since them we’ve invested in heavy water tankers, we’ve improved our communications system and worked on coordinating with the other fire departments. The results of the testing procedure a few months ago showed dramatic improvement from 1993 and that should factor into lower insurance rates in rural areas of the city.
And one other note from the fire department, we have begun construction on a new fire station in far Southwest Oklahoma City. Should help with our response times in that direction.

As for police, you know of our commitment to fight crime. We have a policy of no tolerance for crime. But in 2012, our homicide rate went up sharply over where it has been the previous two years. That said, it was nowhere near the all-time high we reached back in 1979. That year, we had 25 homicides per 100,000 citizens. This year, we were closer to 16 per 100,000. 35% lower than 1979. But, simply put, our citizens must feel safe in their neighborhoods. You also know of our commitment to combat gang violence. It is a priority. To that end, we are active in three distinct areas: 1) predictive analytics, to help us understand where crimes are going to occur, 2) community engagement, which asks people inside the community to help us identify criminal activity before it escalates out of control, 3) youth intervention, which takes on a lot of different forms.

For instance, you may not be aware of a program our police department is working on. It has to do with truancy in our schools. In 2010, the city council and I passed an ordinance that tightened up our efforts to keep kids in school and at the same time entered into an agreement with the school systems that empowered all involved. Now, you may ask, how can we afford to allocate police officers to truancy when we have other important needs as well? I think the answer is this. If we allow a kid to drop out of school, there is a high likelihood that our police are going to be interacting with that kid six months later. No question that a kid enrolled in school is much more likely to stay out of trouble than a kid that drops out of school.

We’ve now been doing this long enough to have some results. Since the police chief first created the enhanced truancy effort in 2009, we have had a total of 15,601 students that have been contacted by police. And, in the Oklahoma City Public School System, we have an overall reduction in truancy of 45%.

And it’s not just our teenagers that need to be in school. There is new information regarding how important it is, to get, and keep, our younger children in the classroom. One of our districts performed a study looking solely at how school attendance reflected scores in reading and math. The results were amazingly consistent. At every grade level, there is a connection between attendance and classroom achievement. We need a longer school day. We need a longer school year. We need our kids in the classrooms.

The city has been very involved with the capital needs of our schools all across the city. As we wind down our Maps for Kids program, let me report on the current status. You will remember, MAPS for Kids is our effort to re-build our inner-city school district, while at the same time provide capital funding for the suburban districts. It is a 700 million dollar effort addressing needs at over 100 schools throughout the metro area. In the inner city district, Over 40 school projects have been completed. 25 schools are under construction, nine of those are nearing completion.

At the end of this year, there will be fundamentally, just two projects left. The new downtown grade school begins construction this spring. And the final project is the administration building. We are in the process of helping the district select a site.

This has also been an important year for our Teach for America effort. We currently have 130 teachers in the program. These teachers are young men and women who have come to our community from all over the country to help our kids. The funding has come from a variety of sources but much has come from the private sector. My thanks to each of you that have helped ensure that we do the best we can to educate our young people. Make no mistake about it, the education in our classrooms is significantly better today than it used to be. And this community’s commitment to education is going to continue to pay dividends for years to come.

This community is also committed to the arts. Both the Arts Festival and Opening Night were big success stories this year downtown. Also, should note that the Allied Arts Campaign raised a record amount this year-$3.25 million dollars raised to help our local artists operate their programs that both entertain and educate our ever growing population. How about a round of applause for our commitment to the arts? It is very impressive.

Lots going on at the zoo as always. This past year, we had several new additions. We have a new baby giraffe named Sgt Pepper. We have some new red river piglets, a new giant tortoise, a new red panda cub named Kaydee. And new pit vipers. Which just goes to show you, you can’t have enough poisonous snakes in your community. Seriously, these are beautiful animals and this is an endangered species. We’ve also adopted a baby chimpanzee from the zoo in Tampa. We’re his surrogate parents, at least for a while. Looks like he is fitting right in. And last year’s baby sensation was Melee the elephant. Over 6 thousand showed up at her first birthday party last spring. A big addition to the zoo in 2013 will be Stingray Bay. That’s right Stingrays are coming to Oklahoma City later this year.

As you may know, there are lots of national polls that ask voters if the country is headed in the right direction or the wrong direction. Last month, in several nationwide surveys, only 40% of Americans said that the United States was headed in the right direction. 40%!

Each year, we hire a national polling firm to ask our citizens how we’re doing. Is the city of Oklahoma City headed in the right direction, or are we headed in the wrong direction. The numbers are very encouraging. 82% say we are headed in the right direction. And you can feel it. Yes, not everyone is thriving. And even though our employment rate is extremely low at just over 4%, if you are one of the 4%, things could be better for you. But while we address our problems, through our businesses, through city, county and state programs, through our churches or other charities, we have not stopped investing in ourselves and planning for future generations. We are building parks, and bike trails. We are planning for a new street car system and building hundreds of miles of new sidewalks. We have simply raised the standards for the quality of life in Oklahoma City.

And others have noticed. In the last year, we have had 10-20 other cities make official and unofficial visits to Oklahoma City to see what we’ve created.

On the health front… A year ago we reached a milestone when our obesity awareness campaign known as This City is Going on a Diet reached its’ goal of one million pounds lost. In the end, over 47,000 of us participated, losing, on average, over 20 pounds apiece. Dozens of cities have since duplicated our efforts and the list of cities following our lead keeps growing. In the last few months, based on our success, smaller communities in Michigan and Washington have modeled programs after ours. And amongst bigger cities, both the city of Dallas and the city of Houston have worked with our website creators to create their own obesity efforts. And it’s not just cities. We are also working with the state of North Carolina in helping them with an obesity campaign.

We are also seeing the efforts of our campaign starting to show up in health rankings. For instance, Men’s Fitness Magazine, which annually produces a list of what they term ‘the fattest cities in America’ produced its’ list once again. But, this year’s list was different. For the very first time. They produced their list and we weren’t on it. And, believe it or not, we made their list of the healthiest cities in America. They use a number of important criteria to come up with their rankings and we came in at number 23 on the list of the healthiest cities. We have a long way to go, but we are headed in the right direction.

As a whole, the state of Oklahoma has fared poorly in health for several years. In fact, since the 1990’s, we’ve been generally getting worse and worse. Why? Three reasons generally-higher than average rates in poverty and obesity. And our smoking rate is higher than the national average.

But this year’s national health statistics showed improvement. Three years ago, we were 49th out of the 50 states in health. This year, we showed up at number 43. Again, that’s a great sign. We are not where we want to be, but we are headed in the right direction.

And while we are doing a better job of taking care of ourselves, we are also doing a better job of taking care of our animals. The number of adoptions from our animal shelter reached 7,182 this year. That’s about 20 adoptions every day. Imagine the positive impact that is having on our city.
And one other number I want to pass along comes from our public works department. In 2012, they repaired over 81,000 pot-holes last year. That’s over 200 per day.

And in air travel, while the numbers aren’t as big, the economic development it creates certainly is, at the airport, we increased our number of direct flights to two more cities this year. And overall, air travel at the airport increased another 4%.

As for MAPS 3:
We have seven citizen-led sub-committees tasked with providing direction on the projects. They make recommendations to the MAPS 3 Citizen Advisory Board. And then those recommendations go on to the City Council.

As you know, with the MAPS model, we pay for these projects with cash, so it takes a while to collect the penny and build the projects but it should be interesting to watch over the next ten years.

Here’s a status report:

Starting with the Senior Health and Wellness Centers. Expect four of these facilities to be built. We currently have a request for proposals on the street and multiple groups are indicating they are going to respond. It’s possible we could break ground on the first facility later this year. The first center is in the process of being developed now.

The Jogging and Biking Trail subcommittee is acquiring land for the river trail that will connect the Oklahoma River with the trail at Lake Overholser. The design is nearing completion and construction should begin this year.

The Sidewalks that come with MAPS 3 will be built in two phases. The subcommittee has now completed its’ work on the master plan. The design of the first half of the sidewalks is underway. Overall, hundreds of miles of sidewalks are coming to Oklahoma City. Some of it from MAPS 3, some of it from Project 180, and a lot coming from the last bond issue election.

The Convention Center is the biggest project. The site has been selected, we are in negotiations to buy the property. And there is a strong coordination effort between the people working on the convention center with those that are working on the park, the boulevard and the streetcar.

The Street Car subcommittee has been very busy. The Santa Fe Station has been selected as the site of the Multi Modal Hub and the purchase of the property in underway. Engineers are analyzing the proposed route and looking at the best use of the money available.

The subcommittee working on the downtown park is making good progress. We have held two public meetings on the park and the third public meeting is tonight. Several focus group meetings have been held. The phase one improvements will soon be in design.

On the river, construction has begun on the lighting. The whitewater facility and the windscreen are in the design phase.

And finally, at the Fairgrounds, the architect for the expo center has been selected and will soon begin the design.

Also in the last year, Project 180 moved forward. Here’s some numbers: Nearly 4 miles of downtown streets have been completely redesigned and completed. We have built 13 new intersections with all new traffic signals and crosswalks. Also as a part of Project 180, we have planted 863 new trees. And there’s a lot of new lights associated with Project 180. 357 lights have been added for pedestrian traffic and over 175 new lights have been installed for vehicles. And there’s more to come. Project 180 will be moving to Park Avenue, Kerr Avenue and EK Gaylord.

We also had some major projects that were completed in the past year: The improvements at the Chesapeake Energy Arena are now finished. Coupled with the practice facility that was built for the Thunder, this fundamentally completes the 2008 Big League City initiative that resulted in us getting a permanent NBA team.

We also finished the Oklahoma City Skydance Bridge. And it has already been honored nationally. An organization called Americans for the Arts named it one of the top 50 public arts projects in the nation.

Good news also this week from Science Museum Oklahoma. They just announced a $12 million dollar grant from the Reynolds Foundation, which sets them up well for a huge addition to their building in the Adventure District. The new exhibit will help us introduce young children to science, technology, engineering and math.

And in our effort to stay ahead of the need for downtown parking. We are about to break ground on a 10 story parking garage between Walker and Hudson, near City Hall. It will create another 800 parking spaces downtown.

Let’s have a good year. It’s going to be hard for 2013 to match 2012, but let’s see what we can do. I have a feeling you won’t let me down.

And Mom your new carpet looks great.

Thank you all. And God bless.

Mayor Cornett's biography