September 12, 2023

Meet the Team: Michelle Barnett, SVP of Economic and Workforce Development for PartnerTulsa

Site 1: The Core The Core is intended to rebuild a vibrant and resilient mixed-use community that honors the Black Wall Street spirit and legacy of Greenwood, establishing a new residential community, and creating spaces that nurture the culture of creativity and diversity of talent found in North Tulsa.

The transition from a career in civil engineering to economic development may seem like a detour to some but for our Senior Vice President of Economic and Workforce Development, Michelle Barnett– the destination is clear: building a sense of place. We caught up with Michelle to learn more about her role, her perfect evening in Tulsa, and how her engineering skills inform and influence her approach to economic development.

What is your role at PartnerTulsa? How do you support PartnerTulsa’s mission to drive economic growth for the city? 

PartnerTulsa’s Economic and Workforce Development (EWD) group, which I lead, focuses on ensuring Tulsa has the places, people, and jobs to grow an economy with opportunity for everyone. We know that about 80% of our job growth comes from existing businesses, so we provide tools and staff dedicated to removing barriers to growth. We are also looking toward Tulsa’s future for business attraction, anticipating how its key manufacturing, aerospace, and energy industries will adapt and change. In addition, we recognize that over half of Oklahomans work for small, local businesses and provide staff that solely focus on helping small business owners succeed through training and connection to resources. 

Why did you join the PartnerTulsa team? What do you enjoy most about your role? 

Previous to my role with PartnerTulsa I served as the Deputy Chief of Economic Development in Mayor Bynum’s office with a similar focus. The work of growing PartnerTulsa from that core team to the staff and resources we have today has been a joy. Talking with a parent who has gained employment in an industry we have attracted, or shopping at a small business that persevered through the pandemic with the funding we provided – makes my heart glad. Tulsa is uniquely a place where you can see the results of your work making an impact in real-time.  

What current PartnerTulsa project are you most excited about and why? 

There are several projects I’m excited about right now. Thematically, they each represent opportunities for people to be developers and job creators in their own neighborhoods. Whether it’s the new Greenwood Entrepreneurship at Moton development, the Kirkpatrick Heights-Greenwood Master Plan, or the city of Tulsa’s east Tulsa immigrant business incubator, these projects building opportunity in the community, by the community, are poised to be examples for cities across the country. 

What is your favorite place to visit or thing to do in Tulsa? 

A perfect evening for me would be dinner at Lowood, and then shopping in the Arts District. I love going downtown and just seeing what happens. I’ve encountered everything from jazz quartets and Alice in Wonderland, to knights in armor and dozens of Star Wars characters dueling with lightsabers. Downtown and its people never cease to amaze me. 

You are an engineer by training, which is something we don’t always see in the economic development field. How do you see your engineering background informing and influencing how you approach your work? 

We have a wonderfully diverse leadership team made up of our executive director, a developer, a lawyer, an economist, and myself, a civil engineer. Much of my team’s work in economic development starts with place – making sure Tulsa has sites needed to support business attraction and growth – and that those sites are ready for development or redevelopment. That’s a civil engineer’s bread and butter. It’s been interesting over the last several years to see more engineers embedded in economic development organizations, so I see it as a trend that is catching on.