May 20, 2024

Staff Highlight: Kian Kamas Reflects on Building Teams and Leading Transformational Change

9/8/21 8:54:34 AM — Portraits of Tulsa Authority for Economic Opportunity staff. 

Photo by Shane Bevel
Kian Kamas

In February, PartnerTulsa’s founding Executive Director, Kian Kamas, announced her plans to step down after three years of building and leading the organization. This month we’re dedicating our Staff Highlight to an interview with Kian to discuss her most memorable moments, and what it’s meant to her to build the team that has become PartnerTulsa.

Kian first went to work for City Hall in 2017 as Mayor G.T. Bynum’s deputy chief of economic development before being named chief of economic development the following year. In 2021, after multiple economic development authorities, boards and commissions were consolidated into a single entity, PartnerTulsa, she was named its Executive Director. 

Major economic development successes under Kian’s leadership include securing $700 million in announced investments at Tulsa International Airport, creating a community-led effort to redevelop 56 acres of the historic Greenwood District through the Kirkpatrick Heights-Greenwood Master Plan, helping to secure $50 million in State ARPA funding and negotiating the legal framework to establish the Fair Oaks Industrial Park, and attracting national retailers such as Costco and Scheels.


When you first started at the City, did you envision your work would lead you to where you are today? 

When I joined Mayor Bynum’s team in 2017, the City of Tulsa had an incredibly small economic development team that didn’t have anywhere near the resources it needed to be impactful. So much of my initial focus was just on finding a modest amount of additional resources that could allow us to do more, in addition to trying to find ways to leverage assets the City had in other entities like the Parking Authority, Industrial Authority, Utility Authority, etc. That initial work was very relationship-focused. How could we do a better job articulating a vision for economic development in Tulsa? How could we help others see the role they could play in achieving that vision? Those relationships then became the very real foundation for ultimately designing and creating the Tulsa Authority for Economic Opportunity (TAEO, now known as PartnerTulsa). So, the answer is likely “no” – I didn’t necessarily think I would be here when I first started working for the City seven years ago. But I did very much hope that I could play a role in building a more effective and impactful public economic development organization that could work on behalf of the City and Tulsans for generations to come. 


What of PartnerTulsa’s accomplishments are you most proud of?

It’s incredibly hard to name just one – particularly when it comes to the many projects we’ve had the chance to work on and announce over the past few years (and several that are still in the works and not fully public yet!). I think what I’m most proud of is the team we’ve built at PartnerTulsa. When I first started at the City, we had three full-time staff – today we have 18 total staff. Obviously, having the opportunity to add this much capacity is a point of pride because it means we can deliver far more impact across Tulsa. But the real point of pride for me is the fact that the people who make up this team are deeply passionate about their work. Some of the best moments in my career have come over the past few years when staff members have said they feel like they finally work for an organization where they can bring their full selves, or how they know that there’s no other place they could work where they would get to have an impact on people’s lives in they way they do working here. I’m a huge believer that people are the greatest asset of any organization, and I’ve found immense joy building and having the opportunity to lead the team here.  


Your last day in your role as Executive Director is May 31st. What does the process look like for finding the next leader of PartnerTulsa?

I’ve been incredibly grateful to Mayor Bynum and the TAEO Board of Trustees for supporting my desire to transition out of my role, and helping chart out a transition plan that maximizes stability for the organization, our staff and our work. Over the course of the past few months, our Board has initiated a national search for a new CEO of PartnerTulsa, and they anticipate hiring that person in late June or early July (with a start date dependent upon the person’s schedule). The search process has been very inclusive of staff and our key partners and stakeholders to help ensure the next leader of PartnerTulsa can be successful. I’m incredibly excited to help welcome whoever is selected through this process, and will be working to support them so they can quickly onboard and advance the numerous critical projects and priorities PartnerTulsa and the City have in progress. 


What do you see as the biggest economic development opportunities on the horizon for Tulsa? 

I think one of the things that excites me about this work, and doing it in Tulsa, is that there are so many things coming together right now. When I started in this profession a decade ago, the economic development ecosystem looked much different then, with far fewer actors. I’m incredibly excited about the number of organizations – many of them just a few years old – in the city that are focused on various aspects of economic and community development, and what can happen when we all work toward collective goals. 

When I think about major challenges like meeting our current and future housing demand, or helping to support the next generation of industry in Tulsa, or ensuring our development efforts truly support and lift up Tulsans, I know none of these things can be addressed by any one organization. The work that we’ve done to develop the Tulsa Housing Strategy, or to help land major federal grants like the Build Back Better Regional Challenge, or our work with community to develop and implement the Kirkpatrick Heights-Greenwood Master Plan has all been deeply collaborative, and its long-term success will require continued partnerships. I can’t wait to see what the next year, five years, decade, hold for each of these efforts and the impact they’ll have on Tulsa.


What’s been one of your favorite memories from your tenure leading economic development for Tulsa? 

I think my favorite memories are grounded in the chance to work alongside and learn so much from so many wonderful public servants starting from my first day nearly seven years ago. I know I am a better leader, and I’ve had more impact in this work, because so many people have been willing to share their knowledge, to listen to crazy ideas, and to dream big about how we might be able to do something new or different. I am infinitely grateful to have had the chance to serve with so many people who care deeply about Tulsa, and who come to work every day with the goal of trying to make it a better place to live.