TULSA, OK: A massive and tightly controlled PR program helped win passage of a ballot referendum aimed at increasing local taxes, which in turn appears to have kept Tulsa in the good graces of one of its largest employers: American Airlines.
As part of a cost-cutting initiative, American is evaluating whether to consolidate maintenance facilities in Tulsa, Fort Worth, TX, and Kansas City, MO. The company will make decisions on work allocation within weeks.
In the meantime, Tulsa voters approved four wide-ranging proposals that will raise the county's sales tax by a penny for up to 13 years. One of the measures is designed to provide $22.3 million to improve the American facility, which employs about 8,000 people. The tax measure passed with very little opposition receiving attention in the local media.
PR firm Schnake Turnbo Frank was hired by the city and county, and paid by Citizens for Greater Tulsa to build support for the so-called Vision 2025 propositions. The research-heavy campaign identified 52 demographic groups and targeted each with tailored messaging, said account manager Lee Gould.
"People love this community, they love their region, and I think they saw it dying," he said.
Economic blows to Tulsa include the decline of the once robust Williams Companies, Citgo's consideration of moving its US headquarters to Houston, and TV Guide Channel's relocation of some functions to Los Angeles. Thus, voting yes on funding for economic development, healthcare, education, and community facilities gave citizens a psychological boost, Gould surmised. He believes the same sentiment drove strong local media support.
"They saw the writing on the wall - that our city has really sat dormant for a decade," Gould said. "None of us wanted to be a has-been city."
The opposition agreed that Schnake Turnbo Frank's "bandwagon" approach worked.
"They got people to focus on what they wanted to get out of it, and to ignore the things that were more controversial," said Michael Bates, who cochaired the anti-tax-increase Tulsa County Coalition.
After the proposals passed, American issued press releases thanking voters, politicians, and labor unions for their support.
It announced that three new maintenance functions would be assigned to Tulsa. "The passage of this proposition is an important piece in the evaluation process," the release stated.
Kansas City is also offering incentives, and Fort Worth feels secure with the facility and
tax breaks American already enjoys there, according to officials in those cities.