Why Tulsa’s bid to attract the “creative class” is doomed

“Nobody wants to live in Dogpatch.”


The city of Tulsa is offering an interesting new program it hopes will attract “digital nomads” and other members of the creative class.

New Program in Tulsa, Oklahoma Offers Remote Workers $10,000, Free Co-working Space, Affordable Rent to Relocate to Tulsa

– Program Incentivizes Entrepreneurs and Digital Nomads to Try Tulsa On For Size

TULSA, Okla.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Today George Kaiser Family Foundation and the City of Tulsa announced the launch of Tulsa Remote, a program offering a $10,000 grant and additional benefits to eligible applicants who move to and work remotely from Tulsa, Oklahoma for a year.

“We’re looking forward to having a new group of civically engaged people join in our tight-knit community and discover all the resources Tulsa has to offer.”

“Tulsa is a generous and welcoming city, and through this effort we hope to draw remote workers who can further complement our talented workforce,” said Ken Levit, executive director of George Kaiser Family Foundation. “Over the past ten years, the Foundation has worked with numerous community partners to bring more than 1,000 young people to Tulsa. We could not be more proud of the contributions of Teach For America, City Year and the many artists of the Tulsa Artist Fellowship who have joined the Tulsa community. We are looking for talented and energetic people who not only will consider re-locating permanently to Tulsa but especially for people who want to make something happen here — to add to the dynamism, idealism and get ‘er done spirit of Tulsa.”

Each $10,000 grant will be distributed over the course of a year to eligible remote workers or entrepreneurs living outside of Tulsa County. Participants will initially be given $2,500 to be put towards relocation expenses, a $500 per month stipend and $1,500 at the end of the 12-month program. The funds for this effort are provided exclusively by GKFF.

This is certainly a good deal and a worthy idea. I expect a number of people to take them up on it. Ultimately, though, I’d be surprised to see the program achieve any sort of long-term success.

creative class

The problem is that members of this coveted cohort are drawn to things Tulsa doesn’t have. For starters, diversity is the air they breathe. It isn’t something they seek out, it’s simply something that is in their world. Homogeneity makes their skin crawl. 

More than anything, though, these people crave what Richard Florida (the man responsible for this line of demographic research) calls quality of place.

  • What’s there: the combination of the built environment and the natural environment; a stimulating, appealing setting for the pursuit of creative lives.
  • Who’s there: diverse people of all ethnicities, nationalities, religions, and sexual orientations, interacting and providing clear cues that this is a community where anyone can fit in and make a life.
  • What’s going on: the vibrancy of the street life, café culture, arts, and music; the visible presence of people engaging in outdoor activities—altogether a lot of active, exciting, creative goings-ons.

Florida has argued that the core qualities driving the creative class boil down to the “three Ts”: talent, technology and tolerance.

Talent is what Tulsa and so many other metropolitan areas around the US (and world) seek to attract. Technology is an infrastructural concern, and where digital nomads are concerned can be addressed by a sufficiently committed city. Tolerance, though…

Creative-minded people enjoy a mix of influences. They want to hear different kinds of music and try different kinds of food. They want to meet and socialize with people unlike themselves, to trade views and spar over issues. A person’s circle of closest friends might not resemble the Rainbow Coalition—in fact, it usually doesn’t—but creatives want the rainbow to be available.

Tolerance and its sidekick diversity aren’t something you can buy – at least not quickly. This quality of place that’s so central for the creative class is a deep, historical cultural phenomenon. Places became what they are over centuries. And given immigration and migration trends, we’re probably talking millennia, even.

Place is the barrier Tulsa, and communities like it, face. And there isn’t enough money in the world to turn Tulsa into Seattle, Boulder, Denver, Cupertino, Cambridge, Madison or Berkeley.

Let me see if I can illustrate the issue at a general level with a graphic.


Ultimately, creative class/digital nomad voters are considerably more progressive than rest of the electorate. And these people are not itching to move to Red America.

Tulsa isn’t hip. It isn’t cool. It isn’t progressive. It isn’t indie and authentic. If you don’t want to take my word for it, ask yourself why Tulsa is having to pay people to move there.

And as one of my good friends recently put it (he’s progressive and currently living in Red country and not especially happy about it), “nobody wants to live in Dogpatch.”

“Dogpatch” is harsh, of course, but that kind of characterization of America’s more conservative, less urban areas isn’t uncommon among the demos Tulsa is appealing to.

Tulsa’s best angle might be to package itself as sort of an affordable, on-the-come haven for techno-Libertarians. As you can see, Gary Johnson pulled 6% of the vote in Tulsa County and I’d imagine that a significant number of creative classers who aren’t liberal fit into this category.

Meanwhile, I do wish Tulsa the best, along with all the other metro areas in the same boat. I’d love to see a huge influx of digital nomads exerting a positive cultural force on these places. And if you’re one of the people who takes them up on the offer, let me know how it works out.


  • Have you ever been to Tulsa? It’s actually a pretty cool city with a thriving art scene, two major art galleries, and a lot of Native American influences. The Cherry Street area used to be run down and now it’s coffee shops, bistros, little shops, my old elementary school is now a bunch of trendy shops. You’re not on the prairie yet so you get hills and trees and a few good sized lakes nearby. It’s no Seattle or Austin, but for people who want a place they can afford to live it has quite a bit to offer. More than Wichita.

    • Tulsa also has lots of deco architecture, which I love. And don’t they have a Chihuly?

      I know it’s better than people think, but that bright red election map matters a LOT. There’s a massive public perception issue and the overarching culture is real. Now, Austin is an oasis in a big red desert, too – can Tulsa somehow make itself into the Austin of OK? That’s the goal, I guess.

  • Poor Tulsa. I’ve passed through a few times. Even bought some FR gear there once. That shirt is the most cowboy thing I own, and the least cowboy thing I could find. I feel Tulsa’s pain though. Here in an idyllic little city that has so much potential, but completely lacks diversity. Even with a university that has enrollment of 1/3 the permanent population.

    And without diversity we lack food, music, and little things that make a city really desirable. We do have a lot of beer, but since IPAs are the pumpkin spice lattes of bearded white men wr have a lot of them and not much else.

    • I know there’s a lot you like about your area, Lex, but it does lack some of the cultural hooks I’d expect you to really want. Not sure I could live a life of bad IPAs…

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