Arthur Jackson is the Senior Vice President of Economic Development at the Tulsa Regional Chamber. We sat down with Arthur to chat about how they’re bridging the gaps between North and South Tulsa, what the future looks like for the region, and what people should know about it. This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
CityAge: There are some significant differences between North and South Tulsa. Can you describe what they are?
Arthur Jackson: There’s a huge wealth gap and economic empowerment [gap]. You look at communities to the south like Bixby, Oklahoma, or Jenks, and really South Tulsa in general, you see a different caliber of home. You see new home development, beautiful estates…Most of the homes that you'll see there in the North Tulsa area, especially far North Tulsa, are going to be from the forties, fifties, and sixties. So they're older homes. A lot of them are Section 8 housing, they’re on housing assistance. You don't see a lot of increase in home value, property values. You definitely don’t see a ton of new home developments or new development in general. The other thing is that it's been a food desert out there for many years. In many parts it still is. There have been some great efforts to address that as recently as 2021 with the Opening of Oasis Fresh Market…but it remains an issue for many areas in North Tulsa.
CityAge: What is the city doing to address those gaps in wealth, financial literacy, and food security?
Jackson: One of the programs is a foundation called Food On the Move…[they offer] an Ag program in some of those North Tulsa public schools, starting within middle school and elementary school. The Ag program includes training and education using innovative urban farming systems. Those programs really address 2 things. It helps address the food desert, but then, when you start incorporating healthy eating, eating organic, eating fruits and vegetables, then it starts to address life expectancy for North Tulsa. It also goes on to address some of the financial literacy and business acumen, beginning in middle school: they have a program where Kevin Harper, who is the President and CEO of the Food on the Move foundation, works with middle school students to basically craft a business plan. It teaches them how to go out and do the work and farm. But then, okay, what do you do with this produce? How do you create a business plan around that? How do you go out and sell products? So those kids will take that produce, which is organic, and do a pitch to the Founder and CEO of Oasis Fresh Market (which was the first grocery store in decades to open in North Tulsa), AJ Johnson. Whoever has the best pitch, he’ll buy their produce and actually sell it in the store.
CityAge: It seems like there's a sense of empowerment within the community to address challenges from the ground up. Why is that important?
Jackson: This is our future workforce, right? It shouldn't just be about kids in East Tulsa, or West Tulsa, or South Tulsa, it should be about everyone. It starts with helping these kids know that there are things outside of their bubble in North Tulsa, and that they can really grow up to be anything they want. It gives them that base foundation: how to take care of yourself, how to eat right, how to be healthy, and then teaching business acumen and financial literacy…it's teaching them how to go out and farm, but also teaching that more white-collar skill set.
CityAge: Is there any advice you would give to a city leader in a similar position as you but in a different city?
Jackson: Don't forget about those impoverished communities, that are traditionally minority areas…because you don't want them to get pushed out. As you have progress within a city, as more business investment comes in, as more talent moves to and wants to find areas of lower costs, whether that's from California or New York…it tends to drive up the price for others. You've seen that happen within some great communities over the last decade or two, such as Denver, Salt Lake, Dallas and Austin. You need to start paying attention to that before you hit that threshold. Before you grow out of control, and that minority population is pushed out of a home that's been in their family for two or three generations. Make sure that they have access to the same level of education…that way they're able to come back and take those jobs that have been created, still live in the community they grew up in and thrive. This will also allow them to reinvest in their community, take care of their generational home, and build generational wealth.
CityAge: Is there one thing you want people to know about Tulsa?
Jackson: It's the next boom town. It has all the same ingredients you typically look for in a community just before they emerge. What made the Denvers’, the Salt Lakes’, the Austins’, great? They had this really cool vibe. Whether that was a great local food scene which we have here, it is simply incredible, the live music that we have here rivals Nashville, and Austin to some extent. A lot of people don't realize the music history that came out of Tulsa. The outdoor activities are phenomenal, with miles and miles of hiking and biking trails to the beautiful lakes and hills we have. You begin to see why it's easy to attract talent here. Then you couple this with being able to afford a home and not being stuck in traffic for hours on your commute. You start evaluating these things as a business leader too, when you're looking for that next place to either relocate your headquarters, open a new office or advanced manufacturing facility…they look to cities like Tulsa.