This is the first of several reports from the Making Place Matter in Northwest Oklahoma Rural Community Economic Development Summit held in Alva on June 3, 2010.
Deidre Myers from the Oklahoma Department of Commerce presented statistics and analysis about Northwest Oklahoma’s population changes.
Most Northwest Oklahoma counties have lost 50% or more of their population since statehood, Myers said. Woodward County is the exception through 2000-2008 with a significant gain, and not just a spike around the oil boom. Population declines hurt in workforce supply and consumer demand.
Age distribution is important when trying to recruit companies. They look for lots of people in the 25-55 age cohort, Myers said. The largest age cohort in Northwest Oklahoma is under 5. That is the region’s biggest asset. The working age group cohort is lower, and the oldest age cohorts are also huge. That means Northwest Oklahoma has lots of service needs, but fewer workers to support it.
The ethnicity of Northwest Oklahoma is 80% white, with a growing number of white Hispanic and a significant percentage of American Indian. Myers explained that the U.S. Census defines white Hispanic as those with Mexian heritage. Non-white Hispanic includes African heritage (Haiti, etc.).
Northwest Oklahoma has a lower educational attainment, a lower percentage of the population with a bachelor’s degree, than the statewide average.
Economy and Employment
Oklahoma went into the current recession a year behind the nation, Myers said. We seem to be coming out sooner, based on last two months. Oklahoma suffered a smaller job loss during this recession than it did in the 2001 recession. The 2001 recession was harder on the energy sector, and it lasted much longer in Oklahoma than the rest of the nation. Even with that recession, Oklahoma’s unemployment rate did not exceed the national average in 2001. Oklahoma’s unemployment rate has not been above national unemployment rate since 1999.
Oklahoma is actually made up of a number of regional economies. Memories of competition between communities keeps us from coming together as a region, Myers said. However, these same communities are part of a regional economy based on shared assets. Northwest Oklahoma is different from other regions of the state. Unemployment rates in the Northwest are currently lower than the state average by a full point. Usually, Northwest Oklahoma unemployment rates are two to four points lower than the state averages.
The Northwest Oklahoma economy has a head start on recovery compared to the rest of Oklahoma, Myers said. She recommended the region capitalize on this by saying, “we have solid jobs,” and “you don’t have to worry about your job out here.” Populations will move where jobs are available.
Demographics show two assets for Northwest Oklahoma, Myers said. There is huge potential in under five age group and huge knowledge in the over 55 group. She recommended getting the people over age 55 involved in the education and lives of the children under five.
Next week, I’ll share the comments from Linda Barnett of Oklahoma Main Street and Marci Penner of the Kansas Sampler Foundation.
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Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are lifelong entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural topics.