Urban Cowboy – Tulsa and the Urban Employment Growth

Americans are migrating to cities – and job opportunities are coming with them. According to a recent report by City Observatory, as urban populations have increased employment in those city centers has grown too, while employment in the surrounding suburban areas has shrunk. Like dinosaurs that once wandered the landscape blocking the sun, skyscrapers were seemingly on the verge of extinction for several years. However, since 2007 that trend is changing. The report notes that this appears to be a rather subtle shift. The employment growth in urban centers is only 0.5 percent, while the loss in surrounding areas is 0.1 percent. However, what these numbers indicate is significant: a shift in workforce trends.

For years, job growth in urban centers was stagnant while areas surrounding those centers were seeing substantial growth. Now, that periphery is losing jobs while urban areas are gaining them. In Chicago, United Airlines moved its operational headquarters downtown from the Illinois suburb of Elk Grove. Over in California, Pinterest has settled in San Francisco after pulling up stakes from Palo Alto. And this isn’t just happening in large cities like Chicago and San Francisco. Mid-sized urban centers are seeing a boom as well. TRAC Staffing, an employment service that specializes in medical and industrial staffing, recently made a move from smaller areas to open a third office in Tulsa, Oklahoma.



“As a staffing company, we go where the industries are located. And if industry is moving to urban centers, we’re moving to urban centers,” said Kasey Moran, CEO of TRAC Staffing. “We’re going to continue to expand in both smaller markets, like our recent opening in Poteau, Oklahoma, and larger, more urban cities. On that front, Tulsa is a great place to start.” Before this expansion, TRAC had two offices: its home office in Sallisaw, Oklahoma and a branch in Fort Smith, Arkansas. The population of those two cities combined is less than 100,000. A mid-sized city with a larger population has many advantages that are important to TRAC Staffing.

“We considered several cities before selecting Tulsa,” said Moran. “We looked very closely at each city’s industry expansion, and that includes existing industry and new industry. Other factors that we took into consideration include the education level of the workforce, average wages, and population trends. We found that the median age for Tulsa is below the national average.” While there is some debate in the media, the general consensus is that millennials and young families are fueling this migration to urban centers. The current trend is that people increasingly want to live in an area with nearby shopping and entertainment while having a short commute to work.

Tulsa, for example, has a population that’s slightly fewer than 400,000, yet the city has two world-renowned art museums, a full-time professional opera and ballet company, and one of the nation’s largest concentrations of art deco architecture. In addition, the average commute for a Tulsa resident is 18 miles (15-17 minutes), well below the national average. All of these factors are attractive to a migrating, younger population.

And this is not lost on industry and businesses looking to move headquarters or expand into new markets. “We chose Tulsa because it has a diverse workforce and an extremely diverse business community,” said Moran. “The cost of living is low, and Tulsa is just a very easy city to get around. Traffic is not a burden, wages are competitive, and unemployment is manageable. They’re a very progressive city. It’s very easy to just feel at home when you’re in Tulsa.”