Economic development in and near Owasso is becoming as dense as rush-hour traffic.
In the past two months alone, new commercial construction or expansions in the area have totaled about $130 million.
Warren Clinic and Ascension St. John/Encompass Health Corp. have announced medical facilities valued at a combined $53.5 million, and an upstart real estate firm is building a $5.5 million office building.
Just east of the city, work is underway on a pair of industrial buildings in Tulasi Commerce Park ($50 million). Milo’s Tea, which came to Oklahoma in 2020, already has announced a $20 million expansion that is expected to add 50 new jobs.
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For Owasso, it’s simply par for the course, City Manager Warren Lehr said.
“Golf is a lot like life, which mirrors economic development in this respect,” he said. “It’s not how many birdies or eagles or even hole-in-ones that you’re able to hit. It’s how few mistakes you make. That’s going to give you the best overall score at the end of the day.
“In Owasso, we have great consistency throughout. We have great schools, great churches, great leadership in the business sector, excellent leadership at the chamber and in our economic development efforts. I don’t think there’s a real weakness.
“Over the last several years, Owasso has become much more self-contained. Most residents would tell you that everything’s here that we need. Those are things that the investors look at.”
The city benefits from certain geographic advantages.
Commuters reach Tulsa on two federal highways, U.S. 169 and U.S. 75, and Tulsa International Airport sits about four miles south. Also close are the Cherokee Industrial Park and the Tulsa Port of Catoosa, one of the largest inland ports in the country.
Continuity in leadership has helped Owasso, as well.
The municipality has had only two city managers — Lehr succeeded Rodney Ray — in the past 21 years. Moreover, Gary Akin headed the Owasso Chamber of Commerce for 27 years until this spring, giving way to Chelsea Levo Feary.
“The foundation that we’ve laid years ago has allowed for the development to come in and happen and really evolve, as we have developed our targeted industries and created the space for those target industries to expand and locate into our community,” said Levo Feary, president and CEO of the chamber.
“I don’t think that any of that would have happened unless we had the forethought years ago to create master plans that allowed for this type of quality development in our community.”
One of those recent templates is the city’s Economic Development Strategic Plan, adopted in 2018.
“The last two years we suffered through COVID,” Levo Feary said. “Even through those strange times, … we’ve been able to mold it and tweak it and still continue to move forward and compete and grow and implement the strategic initiatives we first set out.”
The city and chamber will work even more closely together under a partnership unveiled in February.
Under the new structure, the chamber absorbed the Economic Development Strategic Plan, which encompasses initiatives that allow officials to clearly define and design policies to promote Owasso as an economic hub.
“Merging the plan into the Owasso Chamber environment, … I think it plugs it in to more energy, more resources, more exposure,” Levo Feary said. “I think that this new model really just kind of breathes more life into that plan and only gives it more momentum.”
In the meantime, projects continue to position Owasso for the future.
The Oklahoma Transportation Commission recently approved a $13.6 million contract with Becco Contractors to expand the northbound and southbound bridges on U.S. 169 at 76th Street North.
Other projects underway in the city include Smith Farm Village, a 35-acre mixed-use planned development at 96th Street North and Garnett Road.
About a third of the development will be dedicated to single-family detached rental homes, the first housing of its kind in the city.
“We probably have the retail and business environment and the education system that will support quality jobs,” Lehr said. “If you look back 25 years, we were in a much different position.
“Now we see a lot of our Owasso High School graduates that are firefighter-paramedics, police officers, city employees. Owasso has become a more attractive place to not only grow up but to raise a family and to stay here.”
The city’s population has more than tripled in the past three decades, going from 11,151 in 1990 to 38,240 in the 2020 census.
“People who are coming here to develop, they sense what we’re trying to do here, what we’re wanting to continue to accomplish in our community,” Levo Feary said. “And so we’re not seeing what I would call wasteful or pointless development in Owasso, because I think that we’ve really kind of laid out the chess board in a way that it’s inviting people to come in and play, and they already understand the game.”