Attracting and retaining young talent has become the new battlefield for cities.  Community leaders have gone as far as stating that even the lowest taxes and utility costs can be worthless if communities don’t demonstrate enough qualified labor to staff companies. Communities must show an ability to grow local talent, recruit talent from competitive communities and hold on to that talent when out-of-town recruiters want them back. Winning the battle in Tulsa means young people must choose to start their careers here and make this their home for life. How can Tulsa win not just the battle, but the war?

Young professional groups have popped up all over the United States in an attempt to address this very concern.  Why has this become an important workforce initiative?  I had the opportunity to ask Dr. Gerald Clancy, President of Oklahoma University-Tulsa, that very question.

“After decades of relatively little change, we are now seeing huge shifts in our demographic make-up of our region and nation. As the Baby Boomers retire – 10,000 boomers per day turn 65 – it begs the question, 'Who will keep our economy humming?' It’s clear that young creative talent is the new currency of a region’s economic vitality. We will need to make every effort to ensure the Tulsa region is a great place for young people to relocate to and stay.”

The truth is clear; young creative talent is our region’s economic currency.

When examining successful cities like Portland, Ore.; Austin, Texas; or San Francisco, common characteristics define these communities as attractive to young people. In general, Millennials rank quality of life – specifically, social and cultural activities – proximity to transit, a robust nightlife, a low cost of living and economic opportunities as major contributors when deciding where to hang their hats.

The groundwork is already in place in Tulsa. We have a booming downtown and thriving Brady Arts District paired with a rich culture and history. Tulsa has been ranked as the No. 1 city for young entrepreneurs by Forbes, and we can see the entrepreneurial landscape quickly changing with energy and commitment from community leaders. Tulsa has also been named one of the most livable cities in the country, providing the critical components to make Tulsa an economically affordable place to live, work and play.  But on what other characteristics should we be focusing our time, talent and resources to encourage young talent to make our region their first choice?

I am proud to chair Tulsa’s Young Professionals in 2014, and for the last nine years, this organization has grown and developed a great baseline to help influence change in our city. TYPros has made a commitment to advocate for public transit, a strong urban core and the inclusion of diversity. We have an entire initiative dedicated to arts and entertainment. We support and create opportunities with economic development, including through a Bring it to Tulsa campaign that most recently focused on digital-based driving service Uber. We will continue our support of entrepreneurship with our ever-evolving business incubator, The Forge. Lastly, we provide many networking opportunities and foster young leaders each year. For example, our Board Intern Program will place more than 100 board interns on nonprofits across the city this year.

However, the burden to attract and retain young talent is not on one organization, but must be a regional effort. Like most Midwestern cities, Tulsa is struggling to rebuff ill-conceived national perceptions and to show young people that it can be the city for them. Tulsa offers a long list of benefits to young talent in a wide range of fields; we have the job opportunities, the low cost of living and the entertainment venues. The time has come for Tulsa to stop aspiring to be Austin, Dallas or even Oklahoma City. It is time for us to take pride in who we are as a region, embrace our unique culture and showcase it for the city that it is and the potential for the city it will become. I hope you will join me – and TYPros – in making that a reality.

Isaac Rocha is the 2014 Chair of Tulsa’s Young Professionals, an organization created to attract and retain Tulsa’s brightest young talent, the region’s next generation of leaders. Isaac writes about current issues affecting young professionals, challenges facing the TYPros mission and other musings from a Tulsa YP. For more information about TYPros visit

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