MINNEAPOLIS — Every year, it seems, the Tulsa Regional Chamber’s Intercity Visit includes a panel discussion on regionalism.
Here’s why: Minneapolis, the site of this year’s visit, which took place last week, has a population of 425,669, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. But when you take into account the entire Minneapolis metro area — which includes nearby St. Paul and Bloomington and scores of other communities — the population soars to about 3.5 million. That’s regionalism.
And city and Chamber officials understand its importance, even if the Tulsa metro’s numbers are a bit more modest. The city of Tulsa has a population of 400,403, and the metro population is at about 1 million.
The Chamber added “Regional” to its name in 2012 and works to help foster economic development in cities and towns across northeast Oklahoma through its Tulsa’s Future program and OneVoice Agendas.
“I think regionalism is really embedded in everything we do as an organization,” said Justin McLaughlin, chief operating officer and executive vice president of the Chamber. “It’s embedded in our legislative efforts. It’s embedded in how we think about our community and how we think about transportation.”
But it’s not easy, notwithstanding the goodwill and camaraderie that typically marks Intercity Visits.
“I think that is probably the hardest challenge about regionalism is looking at how to look at the collective greater good, versus what’s in it for me and how do we look at outcomes versus egos,” said Shannon Full, president of the TwinWest Chamber of Commerce.
Full, whose chamber represents 10 suburbs in the west Minneapolis-St. Paul area, took part in the regionalism discussion at last week’s Intercity Visit.
John Feary moderated the discussion. Feary is executive director of the Claremore Industrial and Economic Development Authority.
“They (Tulsa-area officials) needed to hear, ‘Look, regionalism doesn’t just happen because somebody said we need to have a regional approach,’” Feary said. “These are two cities that have Fortune 500 companies, Fortune 100 companies, are very sophisticated, well established, and they have the same trouble that we are, and have had, the same struggles, and just like us, are continually working to get better.”
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said it’s important to remember that when Intercity Visits began a decade ago, officials were looking to merge city and county governments because no one could seem to get along.
“Everything was so dysfunctional there was an assumption we just needed to scrap our form of government,” Bynum said.
Not anymore. As the trip to Minneapolis drove home, there is strength in numbers. The 105 people who took part in the Intercity Visit had lunch at U.S. Bank Stadium, home to the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings.
“We have to be thinking of ourselves as a metro area and growing our suburban communities, not fighting the growth of the suburban communities,” Bynum said from his seat near midfield. “If the suburbs are growing, that feeds the types of improvements in the core city that benefits everybody, like a stadium like this, for example.”
The Chamber’s McLaughlin said the Tulsa area has already begun to see the benefit of taking a regional approach to economic development. The Macy’s distribution center in unincorporated Tulsa County, Milo’s Tea plant west of Owasso, and the Sofidel tissue paper plant in Inola are just three examples of local communities, county governments and the tribes working together to land large employers, he said.
“Companies don’t really care where the city lines are, they don’t really care where the county lines are,” he said. “They just need to know if they get a good site that works, and I find the workforce that I need to where people commute, that’s really what they are concerned about.
“So the better we work together as a region, the better show when it comes to companies looking to come to town or companies expanding.”