September 8, 2023

Partnering for Progress and Equity

By: Kian Kamas
Executive Director, PartnerTulsa

As Tulsa joins other cities in celebrating National Workforce Development month this September, leaders across the region are continuing to work together to increase economic opportunity for all.  To accomplish this, new workforce development strategies and solutions will be required to grow the region’s economy – action steps already in motion thanks in large part to a $39 million Build Back Better Regional Challenge award from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA). 

One of 21 cities to receive the grant nearly a year ago, Tulsa will use these funds to support regional efforts to establish Tulsa as a hub for innovation in the Advanced Mobility industry – leveraging our historic strengths in the aerospace industry and manufacturing, and planning for the future of electric and autonomous ground and aerial transportation. 

A move that lays the foundation for the next generation of Tulsa’s economy, Tulsa will further work through the Build Back Better Regional Challenge to challenge institutions and economic development professionals to develop holistic strategies and interventions that will move beyond an assumption that a “rising tide lifts all boats” and toward tangible actions and practices that deliver more equitable economic outcomes. 

Tulsa’s initial application for the grant highlighted a number of disparities in economic outcomes: employment from Q1 2020 to Q2 2021 fell by 10.5% for White Tulsans, and 25.7% for Black Tulsans; while metro areas in the region faced labor shortages and rural communities showed a lack of sufficient demand for labor; poverty rates in Tulsa County grew from 11% to 14.3% from 2010 to 2019; and unemployment among Tulsa residents with only a high school degree was nearly twice as high as unemployment for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher. 

These data points all highlight the reality that far too many of our neighbors personally face: economic growth often leaves behind those who are most in need of the opportunities growth provides. 

Tulsa’s economic development leaders recognize there is no “silver bullet” solution to this problem. Rather, the solution will require a mix of strategies that address foundational barriers to economic opportunity. 

Major grant-funded investments will include the LaunchPad Research Center at OSU-Tulsa, located in Tulsa’s historic Greenwood District. PartnerTulsa’s work to implement the community-led vision outlined in the Kirkpatrick Heights-Greenwood Master Plan will be key to ensuring the spin-off effects of this investment result in tangible opportunities for existing residents and businesses. 

Additionally, grant funds target workforce development strategies that seek to improve career pathways for those seeking opportunities that don’t require a 4-year degree or higher, including, services to help mobility companies stand up advanced manufacturing apprenticeships, as well as updates and expansions to certification programs at Tulsa Tech and Tulsa Community College.

As we implement these strategies, we must continue to evaluate their impact, adjust, and iterate to increase our impact. And as we do so, we have the opportunity to develop a more comprehensive understanding of how our economic development efforts can translate into greater economic opportunity for all – and to share these findings with our peers regionally and nationally.