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  • Jeremy J. Wade

From oil fields to tech frontiers, let Tulsa's history guide a balanced path forward

My family chose Tulsa as their home in 1903, betting on a city with a future. Echoing their pioneering spirit, I returned to Tulsa after a decade working in Asia, lured by the Tulsa Remote program and the city’s emerging tech sector.

Tulsa has a complex history, shaped by resettlements, an oil boom and the tragic 1921 race massacre — a legacy that is still evident today. As our city embraces new opportunities in the tech sector, Tulsa’s prosperity will be determined by how well we integrate economic development with social justice.

Striking this balance is not just a moral imperative but is strategically important for the city’s future.

Like oil in the early 20th century, the expanding frontiers in tech bring the potential for vast wealth creation and lucrative careers. Unlike the oil industry, which was anchored in the geographical luck of oil reserves, the tech sector is rooted in human talent — their skills, their ability to come up with new ideas, and their willingness to adapt.

Remote work enables high-paying tech jobs to be in Tulsa regardless of the company’s location. This modern shift allows Tulsa and other cities to stand out by offering a lower cost of living compared to traditional tech hubs like San Francisco and New York.

Tulsa is capitalizing on this moment. The Tulsa Remote program has attracted 2,165 professionals in just a few years. Impressively, 90% are choosing to stay, drawn to Tulsa’s lifestyle, characterized by a strong sense of community, work-life balance, and ample space for creative thinking and innovation.

However, this promise is not without its challenges. A rapid influx of new professionals, if not carefully managed, could evoke concerns about inflating living costs and worsening social inequalities.

This underscores the importance of a balanced approach: attracting external talent while also investing in the development of our local tech workforce.

Closing the skills gap is crucial for Tulsa’s tech hub ambitions. Strong educational foundations are a leading indicator for cities that succeed as tech hubs, making it crucial for Tulsa to strengthen its education system, even in the face of challenges.

Encouragingly, there are opportunities for Tulsans right now. Steady demand for entry-level tech workers offers immediate pathways for individuals from diverse backgrounds, including those without advanced degrees, who are willing to acquire the necessary skills.

New programs like the Tulsa Community College Cyber Skills Center and Holberton Tulsa are instrumental in bridging the tech skills gap with specialized, accelerated training models for Tulsans. While it’s too early to measure the full impact of these programs, initial indicators are promising, with a high level of interest and engagement from the community.

Strategic investments in nurturing tech talent and fostering a dynamic entrepreneurial environment are both essential for Tulsa to move up the tech value chain and gain a competitive edge. But as Tulsa aims for tech sector growth, it’s imperative that this expansion is equitable.

Microsoft’s alliance with Black Tech Street, aimed at developing 1,000 Black tech professionals by 2030, not only promises to rejuvenate Greenwood but also to integrate the community into Tulsa’s broader tech expansion strategy.

Each one of us has a role to play in shaping Tulsa’s future. Whether it’s taking advantage of local tech initiatives, investing in a local tech startup, participating in community discussions about equitable growth or simply encouraging more people to explore careers in tech, our collective actions will determine the city’s trajectory.

Like oil before it, tech can redefine Tulsa’s economic landscape. Our goal should be clear: ensure that tech careers are accessible to all Tulsans.

As we embark on this new frontier, the steps we take toward progress must be guided by the lessons from our history and our aspirations for the future.

This article was also featured as an op-ed in the Tulsa World on September 28th, 2023.


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