Saw a piece outta Tulsa yesterday that said Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr.'s in town trying to convince Dallas companies to move to his patch of God's country. And, sure enough, when he called me back last night around 9 he was at dinner at Truluck's on McKinney. First thing I asked him: Wouldn't it be easier just to send everyone iPhones? "That sounds a little over-the-top to me," said the oil-and-gas man two years into his first term. "I'm all about the personal communication, going up to someone and saying, 'This is what I can do for you.'"
Bartlett, son of the late Oklahoma governor who, from the looks of this video, seems like a pretty go-along, get-along kinda guy, has made this trip before; this is his second such hunting expedition since taking office. And he knows Dallas well enough: Bartlett went to grad school at SMU, and his daughter spent many years on the Hilltop. And, yeah, he knows Oklahoma has one thing Texas doesn't: a state income tax. But, insists the mayor: "It's relatively small, and Texas has higher property taxes." So there.
"It's a very competitive world, certainly in business recruitment," says Bartlett, who has yet to find any takers. "But it takes a while. I don't think we can out-Dallas Dallas or out-Texas Texas. But we do have a tremendous amount of things to offer, and I think we look at what our capabilities are and what our assets are and act accordingly. When I was growing up I used to hear about how Tulsa has the capability of being a smaller version of Dallas. And I think that never materialized, but it did show our attitude -- not being arrogant, but being aggressively smart, being entrepreneurial. That's how Dallas is perceived and how we are perceived."
So, do you have your eye on any specific businesses? Or are you focused more on attracting particular industries?
We don't have our eye on specific businesses. We have our eye on specific industries. I am in the oil and gas business, and I understand that business extremely well, and I understand the capabilities it has not just in oil and natural gas but also in the capability it has to segue very easily into whatever the alternatives are going to be in the future, especially in the manufacturing side of energy creation and processing and use. ... There's a company in Tulsa that's been there for 20 years that's very aggressive and very visionary that builds and sells fueling stations for compressed natural gas. About 80 percent of what they build and sell is sold outside this country, a significant amount to India and South American countries.
Are you looking for something complimentary to that industry?
Yes, but not exclusively. We also have some real advantages over other cities. Compared to most cities -- Dallas and Texas aren't in this category -- but we have a better unemployment rate. We have a very young workforce. We have an organization called Tulsa Young Professionalizes, and we have 9,000 people who are under the age of 35 in that organization. That's a pretty significant number of people in a city our size who have decided to stay and live and set their stake in Tulsa and make a life. Our downtown area is in the midst of a real, true renaissance. We're again becoming similar to Dallas's attitude and position and growth. One of the advantages we have compared to Dallas is we have a huge number of significantly sized companies, and in Tulsa those are a big deal, therefore if they want to take advantage of a lot of visibility, move to Tulsa and almost immediately become a big deal, be well-known and be an attraction for an employment base or a market.
Sort of: Come to Tulsa and be a big fish in a small pond.
That's exactly what it is. ... And where we have our advantage is our quality of life. There's no question it's pretty special. We have a lack of traffic. Anything in Tulsa is 20 minutes away, max. There's no traffic jams, you don't have to worry about leaving an hour and a half early. If you want to get out in the country, you're 20 mintues away. Our education system is extremely good. The people, as they are in Texas, are nice, friendly, good solid people you can always count on. Some companies, their employees might want a smaller city with all the advantages of a big city.
So, any nibbles so far?
There have been some, but business recruitment, I've found out, is relationship-building. It takes a while. Like many things it's knocking on a lot of doors, and you get lucky. It's when you walk in and somebody says, "I need this, and you can say, "Well, I have that."