Or as it’s known in certain circles, “The Paris of the Heartland.”
Those of you who know me may think this sounds a bit crazy, but allow me to explain.
2017 was an introspective year for me. One key takeaway: My personal realization that my guiding north star is the pursuit of challenges that push me beyond my comfort zone, and–as I’ve gotten older–empower me to create the greatest positive change in the world. Right now the opportunity to do both of those things lies in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
In Tulsa, I will be working with George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF). For those of you unfamiliar with George Kaiser or his family foundation, George Kaiser is a 75-year old Tulsa-native, a successful oil & gas tycoon, and as of July 26, 2010, he joined a handful of billionaires worldwide in committing to The Giving Pledge: promising to spend a considerable amount of his fortune to work that positively impacts the community
Philanthropists are fortunate enough to choose causes that are most meaningful to them, and Kaiser’s aim is to solve the complex challenge of intergenerational poverty. In many ways, birth is a lottery; Kaiser recognizes that he had a winning ticket. He was born into wealth and raised by parents who valued education. If he had been born homeless, he readily admits he would likely still be homeless today. With that in mind, Kaiser seeks to better the odds in the birth lottery, & ensure every child has the opportunity to live a secure, productive, and happy life. While Kaiser’s resources may not be enough to address this issue globally, he aims to solve it for every child born in Tulsa. I find the issue of intergenerational poverty and a growing wealth gap in the U.S., to be one of the toughest challenges of our time, and am excited to be on the front line of those tackling it.
Some of George Kaiser’s Tulsa efforts include:
- Providing a comprehensive Birth-Eight Strategy (BEST) for low-income Tulsans
- Funding initiatives that tackle some of Tulsa’s toughest issues: programs addressing Tulsa’s female incarceration epidemic (Oklahoma has the highest rate in the country) and teen pregnancy rate (Oklahoma ranks second highest in the country).
- Creating the largest and most elaborate privately funded park in U.S. history–a Gathering Place for Tulsans–which opens this Summer
In pursuit of civic enhancement, Kaiser has spearheaded many initiatives, including the development of the Tulsa Arts District (where I will be residing). Over the past few years, Kaiser has literally changed the physical landscape of downtown Tulsa, and has launched initiatives that include:
- An Artist fellowship for literary and visual artists seeking funding to develop their work while residing in Tulsa
- Extensive music archives featuring icons like Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie
3. Co-working spaces aimed at supporting start-ups & entrepeneurs.
4. Green spaces designated for arts and community activities
All of these initiatives are against a backdrop of a city with around 1 million people in the metropolitan area (47th in U.S. population), that sits on Route-66 smack dab in the middle of the country, and epitomizes as much as one city ever can, “Anytown USA.” In fact, Tulsa is so representative of the rest of the U.S., that Procter & Gamble, McDonalds, and many other global brands often roll out new products in Tulsa, considering it to be the best test-market in the nation!
Like other towns and cities of its kind, the majority of Tulsa’s primary industries are older (oil, gas, logistics) and perceived as less innovative and cutting-edge; a perception that has driven many young professionals to search for opportunities on the coasts. But with that there is a potential opportunity. With an incredibly low-cost, well-educated workforce, Tulsa would be a great home for secondary offices for any quickly growing company currently in LA, NYC or San Francisco. The greatest opportunity lies in moving relatively non-technical functions like customer success, accounting, finance, legal, or operations, at a 30 to 50 percent lower cost basis. After all, a 5,000 square foot mansion in Tulsa can cost less than $500k.
Tulsa also sits comfortably on both north-south and east-west highways, and it is home to one of the largest inland ports for shipping, which makes it ideal for any manufacturing or logistics-centric business. Tulsa is spectacular — it’s just that few people know it….yet.
My role will be the first to straddle the investment and philanthropic arms of GKFF. I will look for businesses and funds in which to invest and simultaneously seek out companies that can expand their footprint into Tulsa, via services or offices. Ideally, of course, the opportunity means both investment and expansion. I will hunt for strategic partnerships that drive the aforementioned initiatives at scale. Finally, but importantly, I will seek out entrepreneurs, builders, movers, and shakers who are excited about the opportunity to help amplify the growth of a dynamic city already bursting with momentum.
The country today is politically polarized. With a current government that is largely dysfunctional, we need to have more than just a fresh slew of politicians in office to undertake the issues facing many Americans today. As someone that deeply explored pursuing a life of public service, and heavily applauds my peers that are currently running for, or serving in, elected and career government positions, your role could not be more important. However, I think the public, private, and philanthropic aspects of our society must all come together in integrated alignment if we are going to systematically drive long term change. This level of alignment is present in Tulsa in a way I have not seen to date in any other city in the U.S.
Tulsa largely voted for Donald Trump in 2016. When one thinks Oklahoma, people often imagine a very conservative political environment, but in reality, Tulsa is a Purple town and has very recently had a Democratic Mayor. I look at Tulsa, and with what GKFF is doing in Tulsa, and think to myself: if we can prove a model for change in Tulsa, this could be something that is rolled out in many cities across the nation in the years to come!
When I look at Tulsa and what GKFF is doing there, I see a passion — for creating opportunities, igniting transformation, and exploring possibilities — a passion that has convinced me that a successful model for positive change in Tulsa has potential to roll out across the nation
If the above sounds exciting to you, or if you think it would appeal to someone in your circle, let’s talk. If you are curious to learn more about how I fell in love with Tulsa, or more importantly the potential I see in Tulsa, I invite you to come out and check it out. I would love to show you around.
Being a coastal guy all my life, I realize that while the big cities are amazing, the innate sense of community and ownership that flows from the faucets here is incredibly contagious. The people have been astoundingly welcoming as a whole, and especially the spectacular squad within GKFF. To New York City, while I still love you more than anything, I find the opportunity to help build the next great world-class city to be too compelling to ignore given everything happening in the world today. So with that in mind, you can find me in my new home, Paris (of the heartland), Tulsa.