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Census reveals double-barreled boost for OKC
The 17.4% leap in Oklahoma City’s population over the past decade proves the city is “doing things right,” Mayor David Holt said Monday.
“Population growth is the ultimate measure of a city’s actions. Beyond that benefit, the other benefit is that success tends to beget success,” Holt said. “Once you’re making this kind of progress, it snowballs.”
The momentum will bring more entrepreneurs, more employers, more events and more retail to the city, he said.
Census 2020 numbers released last week show Oklahoma City is the sixth fastest-growing city among the top 25 largest cities by population. Its 101,055 new residents account for 49% of the entire state growth since 2010.
“The challenge is obviously infrastructure,” Holt said. “With the investments in the 2017 bond, the funding for additional police officers, MAPS 4, and the creation of the RTA (Regional Transportation Authority of Central Oklahoma), hopefully we’re staying ahead of it. But I think that’s something our community will have to continue monitoring.”
Oklahoma City now has 681,054 residents and is one of only 14 American cities that gained at least 100,000 people.
“One is not usually surprised by Census data, but today’s news was a bombshell for those of us who follow this topic. The official 2020 count exceeded the most recent estimate by 18,740 people,” Holt tweeted Thursday.
The next day he followed with this tweet: “Census analysis continues & I’ve got a doozy… Oklahoma City is now the 22nd-LARGEST CITY in the United States, having been 31st in the 2010 Census. Since 2010, OKC jumped Milwaukee, Baltimore, Louisville, Memphis, Detroit, Las Vegas, Portland, Boston & El Paso. Congrats!”
Not only is Oklahoma City a place where people want to live, it’s becoming a destination for visitors.
A new SmartAsset study compared 32 of the largest U.S. cities with at least 100 hotels to identify the best cities to host a conference as industries are returning to in-person formats following 18 months of virtual gatherings. The study analyzed 10 metrics in four categories: hotels and dining, affordability, travel accessibility, and safety and COVID-19 impact.
Oklahoma City came in sixth best, due in large part to its average room rate (about $139 per night) and the lowest average cost of a three-course dinner for two ($45, which is tied with Tucson, Arizona).
The new $288 million Oklahoma City Convention Center is another plus.
“I think just being a fast-growing city leaping into the top 25 demonstrates this is a place worth paying attention to and visiting,” Holt said. “Thirty years ago, a group of people being told they were going to a convention in Oklahoma City likely would have groaned. Now, they’re intrigued and want to see what all the fuss is about.”
Convention Center General Manager Al Rojas said, “Oklahoma City is in that sweet spot. It’s all put together for meeting planners.”
Critical to attracting national conferences is getting the word out that Oklahoma City is not what it was 10 years ago, Rojas said.
Bookings for conferences continue to “ebb and flow, but we’re starting to get a good pace,” he said. Concerns about the COVID-19 spike caused Epic Charter Schools to postpone an event scheduled earlier this month, he said.
The Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association opened its three-day conference Monday. OIGA officials expect the event will draw nearly 3,000 vendors, visitors and guest speakers to downtown Oklahoma City.
The annual Oklahoma State School Boards Association conference will be Aug. 26-30. It usually draws about 2,000 attendees, Communications Director Christy Watson said. It’s too early to tell if the growing number of COVID-19 cases will affect attendance, she said.
September bookings also are for Oklahoma organizations, but in October the National Association of Royalty Owners has scheduled a four-day convention and the facility will host USA Softball’s annual council meeting for six days.
Rojas said the Convention Center could benefit from large organizations that normally draw 20,000 or 30,000 people but are opting to break that down into several regional meetings.
Staffing continues to be a struggle after hospitality workers were “displaced (due to the pandemic) in a very painful way,” Rojas said. “It was already a very tough job. … Getting people to come back is hard.”