Per Granström Per Granström Partner, Delphi

Interview with Kian Kamas, Chief of Economic Development, Office of the Mayor, City of Tulsa

We were lucky enough to be able to catch up with Kian Kamas, Chief of Economic Development at the Mayor's Office in the City of Tulsa to discuss her views on the latest trends impacting on the landscape of economic development in Canada and the USA.

CNP: What do you consider to be the biggest challenge facing place branding and marketing teams working for cities, states and places across the USA and Canada?

KK: For mid-sized cities like Tulsa, the greatest challenge may be the lack of any brand or perception among potential visitors, investors, residents, etc. While this means that our target audience may not have any negative stereotypes we have to overcome, it also means that we have to build up a significant amount of awareness about what Tulsa provides to each audience. 


CNP: What do you believe are the emerging opportunities? [any particular markets, sectors, or marketing channel opportunities that excite you?]

KK: Tulsa has made headlines in recent months thanks to the opening of Gathering Place – a $450 million park on the banks of the Arkansas River – as well as through the launch of Tulsa Remote, a program that pays remote workers to move to Tulsa for a year. Efforts such as these are starting to put us on the map, and we think the resulting publicity provides us an opportunity to either (1) attract “boomerangers” back to Tulsa from other high-cost cities, or (2) to attract talented professionals from high-cost cities that are interested in having an impact in a community that clearly has a philanthropic bent. 


CNP: What trends in place branding and marketing are you interested in exploring?

KK: Now more than ever, I think it is important for cities to find a way to communicate authentically. It’s so easy to create a hip looking video and design a decent campaign (from a visual perspective), but have it look like dozens of other cities. How cities do this, particularly mid-sized cities, is of great interest to me. 


CNP: What are the advantages for closer collaboration between place making and planning teams, tourism, and economic development teams?  

KK: Ultimately all of these efforts play off of each other, and the more success you can create in one space, the more likely you are to create a multiplier or amplifying effect. Well-built cities and well-designed cities are more likely to attract tourists, and to attract talented professionals, which ultimately increases the odds of successful economic development efforts – particularly as companies become more and more concerned about their long-term talent pipeline as they make site location decisions. 


CNP: Do you think it’s becoming more important for DMOs and EDOs to advocate for their role and their impact to politicians and citizens?  Why do you think that is?

KK: I think it is important for organizations of this nature to constantly be in an education mode about what their community’s economic development strategy is, how success is measured, and how public officials and citizens can provide input to shape existing or future strategy. Economic development can be a fast-paced and secretive world, so it is incredibly important to ensure public officials and citizens understand the objectives and outcomes we’re working to achieve, and the strategies we’ve put in place to do so. We may not be able to talk about specific projects as we’re working them, but we should certainly be willing and able to articulate at a higher level our efforts so that others can provide input and help shape our work.  


CNP: Do you think great neighbourhoods are of increasing importance for the place branding strategies of towns and cities?  And what do you think makes a great neighbourhood community?  

KK: Yes. As with most cities, some of Tulsa’s most unique neighborhoods depopulated as residents moved to the suburbs. Many of these neighborhoods have commercial corridors in close proximity – like Tulsa’s burgeoning Arts District or Route 66 – and we’re now seeing a need to really reinvest in these areas.  


CNP: How has the publicity of the Amazon HQ2 bid affected economic development organisations’ approach to attracting investment?

KK: I would say that, in general, it has made economic development organizations think through how they evaluate the level of incentives offered to projects, and to be better prepared to justify support provided for or to economic development projects. Additionally, I think particularly after Amazon’s decision to pull out of New York, economic development organizations should proactively think through the support they must provide and strategy they must develop in order to ensure projects are welcomed by their community. Our team regularly evaluates whether companies are a culture fit for Tulsa, particularly those whom are being considered for our high-value sites that provide the greatest opportunities for public support and incentives. We couple this with a strong focus on how our staff can directly help companies or projects develop relationships with key constituents in the community, so that they are fully equipped with the proper awareness and tools to be successful once they announce.  


CNP: What are the ingredients for success for cities competing to attract young talent?

KK: For Tulsa, we see it as the opportunity to locate in a city that provides an almost immediate opportunity to become involved and engaged at a high level in shaping the future of the city. The average age of the Mayor’s senior team is 34 – and the Mayor has only just turned 40. Sure, we also have a cost of living well below the national average, it’s easy to own a nice home, and we’re making massive investments in key locations like downtown and the river. But we really think the thing that sets Tulsa apart from other cities is our willingness to welcome young people who have big ideas and who want to have an impact. 


CNP: Other than your own session, what are you most looking forward to at the City Nation Place Americas 2019 conference?

KK: Interacting with other professionals in this space and learning about best practices. 


CNP: If you weren’t in your current role, is there a city or country anywhere else in the world that you’d love to work for?

KK: I did my Masters Degree in Edinburgh, Scotland and would always love to live there again – it’s my favorite city in the world.

Kian will be joining Aaron Bolzle, Program Lead at Tulsa Remote and Ben Stewart, Senior Program Officer at the George Kaiser Family Foundation, to explore innovative solutions to talent attraction strategies. 

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