Oklahoma City Mayor Mark Cornett (R) is making his city more attractive to businesses, tackling a public health crisis and he’s using smart growth strategies to get it done. Cornett gained notoriety for tackling Oklahoma City’s obesity epidemic by changing the landscape of the city. After setting a goal in 2008 for the city to lose a million pounds, he passed a massive $777 million “Metropolitan Area Project” in 2009 that made jogging and biking trails, sidewalks and neighborhood parks a priority in downtown development.
The project aimed to make Oklahoma City’s residents healthier, but slimmer figures weren’t Cornett’s sole goal. Mayor Cornett also understood that an obesity epidemic could deter businesses that might consider locating in Oklahoma City. He recently told Next American City, “if I’m a job creator, and I see Oklahoma City on the list of the most obese cities in the country, I’ve got to think: What are my health care costs going to be? What’s my absenteeism rate going to be? Why would I create jobs in a city that doesn’t value health?”
The improved street design has yielded impressive results. Not only have Oklahoma City’s residents shed hundreds of thousands of pounds, the city has also been recognized as Fortune’s #1 place to launch a small business. Not only that, new businesses are relocating to downtown Oklahoma City. Governing magazine recently recognized Mayor Cornett as one of the top public officials in the country for his innovative, healthy and – above all – successful approach to economic development.
So what is Mayor Cornett going to do next? Later today, with the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce and CEOs for Cities, he is hosting “The Oklahoma City Brain Trust,” a discussion to identify what makes a world-class city and ask what Oklahoma City can do to achieve that kind of recognition. We look forward to seeing the outcomes of that meeting and we hope other mayors across the country are taking notes too.