Several economists praised Oklahoma's metro areas as engines of growth, but criticized state leaders for failing to plan for the long term.
During the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber's State of the Economy luncheon Wednesday, University of Central Oklahoma College of Business Dean Mickey Hepner said Oklahoma City set a model in performing long-term planning and raising the sales tax through the city’s MAPS plan. Statewide, though, Hepner argues officials placed shortsighted gains ahead of investing in infrastructure and education
"Until our state leaders take that same emphasis on thinking more about tomorrow than today, our state and its people will never reach its full potential," Hepner said.
The panel also hailed the oil and gas industry as a leading force in Oklahoma. Russell Evans, the director of the Steven C. Agee Economic Research and Policy Institute at Oklahoma City University, said despite a worldwide drop in the price of oil, he continues to see stability in the state.
Evans contended the state is nowhere near a collapse like the one it saw in the 1980s. He says the world’s leading oil producers’ prices will soon level out. (:17)
"There's only so far Russia, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela... can take the bluff and let oil prices fall," Evans said. "Beyond a certain point, it keeps them from balancing their budgets and sets off social unrest."
But without an emphasis on education, economists at the luncheon said Oklahoma’s economy may soon face trouble. The Journal Record's Sarah Terry-Cobo reports the panelists said they were worried about education and infrastructure investment.
Hepner said the state will not maintain a dynamic, thriving economy if it doesn’t invest in education, such as increasing teacher pay. Rickman agreed. In particular, math and science educators are more likely to leave teaching for other fields, in part because teacher pay is among the lowest in the nation, he said.
Evans, executive director of the Steven C. Agee Economic Research and Policy Institute at OCU, agreed that investing in infrastructure is important. Yet those investments are best complemented when there is first a social movement to improve those things, he said.
“If a community decides early education is important, they should establish those policies locally, then move into state policy,” Evans said. “If state policies for reform happen first, the gains could be muted.”
The Oklahoman's Brianna Bailey reports University of Oklahoma Center for Economic and Management Research director Robert Dauffenbach said he expects U.S. gross domestic product to rise at about 2 to 2.5 percent in the coming years.
Lawrence Chimerine echoed the panel’s optimistic forecast during his subsequent luncheon address.
“I don’t think there’s a new recession on the horizon, but I wouldn’t say the economy is completely robust,” Dauffenbach said.
Oklahoma’s economy continues to be stronger than the rest of the nation, in part because of the state’s energy industry, economists at the Chamber event said.
Oklahoma posted the fourth-highest gross domestic product growth among states in 2013, growing by 4.2 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.
The state’s gross domestic product was $164.3 billion in 2013, up from $157.7 billion the previous year.
Chimerine called these past five years of slow-but-steady growth a complete abnormality and argued most normal fiscal upswings last anywhere from only two to three years. But he says the pattern he’s seeing won’t end any time soon.
“I think we have started now a period which will turn out to be the best in terms of economic growth and general macroeconomic period since the Great Recession and stock market meltdown five or six years ago,” Chimerine said.
KGOU relies on voluntary contributions from readers and listeners to further its mission of public service with arts and culture reporting for Oklahoma and beyond. To contribute to our efforts, make your donation online, or contact our Membership department.