Developing Human Capital: Project Next Sets Precedent for Metro Economic Planning

Article excerpt

Even Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class, had never seen an initiative quite like the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber's Project Next: A Regional Economic Evolution.

This could very well be the foundation of what our next major community initiative is, in terms of MAPS Three, said chamber President Roy Williams.

When the chamber sent out a request for proposals to four leading policy consulting firms in the nation asking for a plan to help Oklahoma City develop the talent and diversity of its human capital, the consultants were taken aback. None of them had ever received a request for proposal for a human capital strategy, said Williams. Richard Florida, for one, called me when we sent out the RFPs and he said, 'Roy, I don't know what an RFP is on human capital.' He said nobody has done this, and in his research we have yet to see a community go out there and try to create a human capital strategy. He said, 'That's what I've been preaching, and that's what my book says to do, but we've not ever seen anybody do it yet.'

The idea for Project Next has its roots in a chamber retreat held nearly two years ago. Mary Jo Waits, a senior fellow with the Center for the Future of Arizona, and former associate director of the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University, gave a presentation at the retreat. Waits has written award-winning reports outlining strategic policies for cities in Arizona.

Mary Jo sort of set the stage about what was going on nationally as it related to our competitiveness and all that sort of stuff, and it began a discussion of what are the things that the community - the chamber, specifically - needed to look seriously at over the next long-term period, said Williams. We decided that the route we would take is to try to find a consultant nationally who could help us develop a human capital and diversity strategy.

However, an investigation into how other cities have approached human capital and diversity issues revealed that no other cities had approached the issues in quite the same manner, he said.

And so we sent out an RFP - that sort of outlined generally what we were trying to accomplish, said Williams. One of (the consulting firms) did not respond, in terms of putting together a proposal, because they didn't think they had the knowledge and background to do it. Three of them did submit proposals, and one proposal was a combination of three different consulting operations: one out of Denver, one out of Palo Alto, Calif., and one out of Tempe, Ariz., which is part of the Morrison Institute of Public Policy.

The chamber's steering committee chose the proposal combining the abilities of the three consulting firms. And so began a long-term, far-reaching initiative designed to not just talk about developing Oklahoma City's human capital pool, but to actually and measurably accomplish that goal.

There were about 70 one-on-one interviews and small-group interviews, and then there were 10 or 11 large focus groups that had anywhere from 20 to 60 people in them, and then there were a number of steering committee meetings, and the steering committee has about 65 people in it, said Williams. And then there were subgroups of all that, and then there was the (town hall meeting on Sept. 9).

The consultants - wanted to get very unbiased, direct information, from all sectors of the community, he said. …