Jobs, Young Professionals Returning To Tulsa As City's Momentum Rises

Monday, July 20th 2015, 11:43 pm
By: News On 6

For cities across the United States, the rise and fall of certain industries – like oil booms or busts - can have devastating effects.

In the early 2000s, the Tulsa technology sector took a severe hit and in only a few years the city lost more than 27,000 jobs. That forced young people to move away in search of better opportunities.

But now, in 2015, a new story is being told, a story of Tulsa’s rising.

Ten years ago the realization set in that something had to be done to stop the slide, so the Tulsa region - public and private - came together and the momentum shifted.

Discussions began on how to lure and keep young professionals and businesses and how to bring the city back to its full potential. So far, the strategy seems to be working.

The glamor of Los Angeles’ music and movie scene had Tulsan Shannon Easton-White packing up and moving away to call LA home once she was done with school. Many of her peers did the same.

"I didn't even think twice. I think it took me less than 24 hours to get out of my apartment and get on the road," she said.

For Shawn Kruggel, it was the big city lights of Chicago that lured him away. While in his 20s, Kruggel headed out, determined to make a name for himself in advertising and take advantage of what a big city had to offer.

"Chicago is a city that is built, 100 percent built. Anything you need or want there they either have it or have 17 versions of it," he said.

But while living their big city dreams, something was happening back in their hometown.

Old, vacant warehouses became restaurants, clubs and music venues catering to a younger crowd looking for a little more excitement.

A new arena attracted the biggest names and a new ballpark lit up the sky.

Since the announcement of ONEOK Field in 2008, 50 new projects have popped up or are in the works downtown - everything from apartments to hotels to corporate headquarters - totaling an investment of $710 million.

Mike Neal and the Tulsa Chamber had a mission, “do a better job telling Tulsa's story.”

"Tulsa and our region has had many great strengths for years, but the problem is many hadn't known about it. Not that we've had a negative image - we've really had no image at all," Neal said.

And now a generation of Tulsans who left, are coming back.

Easton-White’s career path changed when she came home for a short time in 2012.

“I was sitting in the park with my dog and a book and I got a call offering me a full-time job," she said.

Almost three years later, she still spends a lot of time at that park - The Brady District's Guthrie Green.

Stories like hers are becoming more common.

A push by the city and chamber to bring young Tulsans back home has led, in part, to the creation of more than 25,000 jobs in the region since 2011.

"I was like ya know what, this age in my life, with what’s going on here, I saw I could make a difference or try to make a difference and so I stayed. I took the job," Easton-White said.

Kruggel moved back home after spending nine years in Chicago. Now he works for local firm Walsh Branding - the company responsible for familiar Tulsa ad campaigns that include all the signage both inside and outside of ONEOK Field.

"The need for talent that has been developed in bigger markets, it gives you this great opportunity to do the same things that you've done, but to do them in kind of your own way, and you're able to have an impact much quicker," Kruggel said.

And, in Tulsa, he said you don't have to wait to actively participate in the community.

"The type of spirit we have here is, if we don't have it, someone steps up to make sure we do, and when we do get it, it’s better than it is somewhere else," Kruggel said.

Neal said, "Over the course of the next couple of years that will materialize and continue to do so at a phenomenal pace.”

With people like Kruggel and Easton-White having a front row seat as it all unfolds.

"You have, all of a sudden, have this moment again and a realization of what is going on and you're like ‘oh my gosh, I'm part of this.’ I am surrounded by these amazing people working just as hard as I am to make Tulsa a cool place to be and it is so great to be a part of that," she said.

And another new initiative, in part by the Tulsa Chamber, is called Project Boomerang. It is a program aimed at keeping college students in the loop with what is going on in Tulsa while they are away at school in order to make it that much more desirable to come back after graduation.

They have a big launch event coming up this Wednesday, and you can learn more about Project Boomerang online.