MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

December 2, 2012

Commuters cost county revenues

With ‘leakage’ near $500M a year, AIM attempts to encourage workers to relocate

— Nearly half a billion dollars may leave Muskogee each year with workers who drive to homes outside the county when the work day ends.

Statistics gathered by Action in Muskogee, which is an initiative to improve life in Muskogee, show 47 percent of employees in Muskogee County commute from other counties. Of those 47 percent, or 12,970 people, about 48 percent live in areas such as Tulsa — where the most commute from — Wagoner, Tahlequah, Sapulpa and Broken Arrow.

Although it’s impossible to know exactly how much those specific 12,970 people earn, the average salary in Muskogee is about $35,000.

Brien Thorstenberg, the business and economic development director at the Muskogee City-County Port Authority, which is leading the charge with AIM, agreed that could mean about half a billion dollars draining away from Muskogee County each year.

Some of those workers will likely stop for gas, a gallon of milk or have lunch while in town on business — retail sales that certainly boost sales tax revenue. But for the most part, their salaries are going toward mortgage or rent payments, property taxes, major purchases, schools and more in areas outside of Muskogee County.

So the challenge, say those interested in boosting Muskogee’s economy, is to get people who commute to Muskogee County for work to want to live in Muskogee, too.

“There are so many elements that go into what makes a person want to live and work here,” Thorstenberg said. “In my opinion, we won’t be able to attract 100 percent of those people to move here, but we can reduce that number.”

Action in Muskogee is the latest and largest push that could, over the long term, bring more people to Muskogee to live.

“The purpose of AIM is to make this a place companies and people want to live and work,” Thorstenberg said.

AIM’s recent development of important initiatives highlighted four areas as important to helping people decide where they will live: the school system, crime rate, housing opportunities and retail opportunities.

AIM co-chairwoman Lisa Wade Raasch said the coordination of efforts is key to the success of the project.

“These are collaborative goals that are good for the community at large,” she said.

Thorstenberg said that although leakage (a measure of retail sales lost by a community to a competitive market) needs to be “captured,” having a certain number of people commuting to work to Muskogee isn’t necessarily all bad.

When a company is looking at Muskogee to develop, it may consider the educational attainment of the available workforce, he said. In Muskogee’s available workforce, according to the U.S. Census, about 21 percent are college graduates.

Tulsa’s educational attainment of its available workforce there is higher, and a company looking to hire degreed administrators or engineers may consider it a boon that Tulsa is only a 30- to 40-minute drive for those potential employees and decide that Muskogee is a good place to build an industry.

Also, Thorstenberg said, although 12,970 people who work here don’t live here and probably spend most of their pay closer to home, about 11,000 people in Muskogee County commute elsewhere to work.

And about 14,000 live and work in the county.

AIM’s chairman, Timothy Faltyn, said he’s excited about the AIM project.

“I think Muskogee is already a great place. I just think we can do better,” said Faltyn, the president of Connors State College. “The more I participated in the discussions with AIM, the more I bought into it — you just start to believe, wow, this could happen.”

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