Monday, November 27, 2006

Diversifying a One Horse Town

I first starting studying Ponca City, OK (population 25,919) just over two years ago when I stopped by the town during one of my road trips through the state. I was intrigued by how the community was working at diversifying its economy after being the headquarters for Conoco for almost 100 years until it was purchased by Phillips Petroleum, which formed Conoco-Phillips, moving the joint HQ from nearby Bartlesville, OK (population 34,748) and Ponca City to Houston, TX. Ponca City was devastated. I was back for their 1st Annual Ponca City Economic Development Conference.

I spent an entire morning in November, 2004 learning of the steps that the town was going through in this diversification drive from David Myers and Tim Burg of the Ponca City Development Authority. I’ve stayed in touch with them ever since and been particularly impressed with how they stay in touch with their stakeholders with a very newsy, humorous and well written ezine weekly newsletter.

Ponca City’s patriarch, E. W. Marland is still viewed with awe in the town even though he died in 1941. Marland made and lost his first fortune in the PA oil fields, moving to Ponca City in 1908 drilling eight dry wells before hitting oil on his ninth, starting an oil boom which swelled Ponca City from 2,500 residents to over 15,000 in a few short years. Marland eventually controlled over 10% of the world’s oil production and refining capacity but overleveraged the company and lost it to J. P. Morgan in 1929, later becoming a Congressman in 1932 and Governor of Oklahoma in 1934. Conoco resulted when Marland Oil acquired Continental Oil, forming Conoco.

Conoco was a wonderful corporate parent, providing very high wages at its headquarters and refineries in Ponca City and still has refining and some support jobs in the town. The average wage for the 1,428 people employed in the oil industry in Ponca City and Kay County was $83,422 in the 2000 census. Mark Snead an Oklahoma State University economist pointed out at the conference that Ponca City has grown their jobs by 3.8% in 2006 compared to 1.9% statewide and 1.4% nationally, while personal incomes grew 8.0% in the past year in the town.

One of the sessions at the conference delved into the University Multispectral Laboratory, a self supporting “trusted agent” R&D and testing center that was announced this fall. The project was put together by the Ponca City ED Team with a 78,000 sf laboratory/data center and $2 million cash donation from Conoco-Phillips, $5 million from the state, OSU Research and Ponca City ED with $2 million. The labs, focused upon Homeland Security, biometrics, petrochemicals, agriculture and defense are expected to generate $79 million into the local economy over the next five years with the creation of almost 200 total jobs. The effort is also part of OSU’s efforts of turning the triangle from Ponca City/Stillwater to Oklahoma City to Tulsa into the “OK Research Triangle”.

Ponca City has impressed me with its willingness to get “outside of the box”, taking a partnering approach to ED. This newest addition to their economy is just another example of the progress that I’m seeing there. I’m very impressed!


ron kessler said...

Jack...I could not agree with you more about Ponca City's ambitious vision and execution of a relationship with a research university 40 miles to the south resulting in the national Sensor Center(UML). (Give credit to the leadership at OSU as well--Pres. David Schmidly and VPR Steve McKeever.) It is a matter of leadership. Both David Myers and Tim Burg are as skilled and focused as any ED executives in the country. The exciting thing is to know that other communities have Strenths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT). My encouragement to any community reading this is to be bold, focused and proud of who you are. It is a way of thinking. Ponca City is an inspiration to others. Go Ponca!

Becky McCray said...

Ponca City is one of my neighboring communities. They have a reputation for aggressively pursuing entrepreneurs and supporting them in locating or relocating in Ponca. Clearly, this is still a strength for them.

Oddly, the state press has given very little coverage to how both Ponca and Bartlesville are doing after the loss of Conoco. Thanks for the update!