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  • Writer's pictureCourt Newkirk

What's Wrong with this Picture

Here at the Okmulgee Area Development Corporation, we see some interesting if not hard to believe statistics about the Okmulgee area. According to the US Census Bureau, over 4,000 people commute into Okmulgee County to work each day. 4,000? That’s the size of a small city. That aligns to our own research that 42% of the professional and skilled workforce employed in Okmulgee (i.e. executive, management, engineering, high skilled employees) commute to Okmulgee from more than 50 miles away (primarily Tulsa County but many others from 21 other counties). That’s a lot of payroll dollars that are leaving the Okmulgee area - dollars presumably spent in another town.

Then there are the out-bound commuters. People who live in Okmulgee County and leave for work in another county. Again, mainly Tulsa County. Having lived in other suburban communities around the Tulsa metro area, I can understand the people who want to go home each evening to a more quiet, less traffic, slower paced small town.

But how do you explain all those who drive into Okmulgee County to work? Good, high paying career type of jobs. In case you don’t know, the jet turbo prop mechanics at Covington Aircraft make really good money. The teachers at OSUIT make a good living. The chemical engineers at CPKelco are up on the pay scale. Plus, we have six or more manufacturing plants spread around the county.

I’ve always wondered what Okmulgee County’s economy would look like if most of those 4,000 who come in from other places to work here would move here. Bring their families for our local schools, their purchasing power, their hobbies and entertainment dollars? Actually, we know why most of them commute into Okmulgee instead of living here. It’s the lack of housing. Every time one of our local companies tell us they're adding staff, we know another family will be house shopping for a few days here in the area, then take their dollars north to Glenpool, Bixby, Jenks, Broken Arrow and South Tulsa.

Missed opportunities worth thousands of dollars every time we lose a family to south Tulsa. We need housing in every price range. Entry level starter homes, retirement and empty nester homes, mid-price range and even the upper price ranges of housing. Of course, we also need good clean sound housing for those who need assistance. Fortunately we do have the Deep Fork Community Action Foundation. Christie Baldridge and her dedicated staff work on housing at several economic levels, but the Deep Fork like most assistance programs has a limited budget. They build everything they have funding for.

Also, the Muscogee Nation has its housing programs. They have a beautiful new housing area under construction on the north end of Mission Road, just north of the OSUIT campus. That’s going to be a great help.

The OADC’s mission is to bring new industry and jobs to the area. We have never worked on the housing issue as a focused effort of our organization. I am presenting some ideas to the OADC Board of Directors, the City of Okmulgee, Okmulgee County and just about anyone else who will listen. There are cities all over the country that are in the same position. Many have been there over the past few decades and made good housing a priority. With new neighborhoods and affordable housing mixed in with market rate housing.

It is not a matter of “can we.”

The question is “are we willing to do what it takes to make it happen?”

Since this is not a new issue, I have to ask: “What’s Wrong With This Picture?”

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