Faced with more than three decades of stagnant population trends and lagging income and educational attainment, Muskogee, Oklahoma, was at a crossroads. Despite the area’s many assets, which included a strong base of private and public sector employers, desirable market access, and a committed group of leaders, Muskogee failed to experience the broad prosperity and economic growth seen by some of its peers, including Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Among the area’s most unique assets that could be better leveraged is the City of Muskogee Foundation (the Foundation), which provides a vital mechanism for investing in economic development.
Recognizing the need for a strategic approach, the City of Muskogee Foundation initiated a community economic development planning process. This effort, called Muskogee Forward, brought together public and private sector leaders to build on the success of previous planning initiatives, including the 2012 Action in Muskogee (AIM) Community Plan. The planning process was led by TIP Strategies and the Foundation, with a steering committee composed of community stakeholders representing both public and private sectors. The project included a robust analysis of economic, demographic, and industry data, as well as extensive stakeholder input via one-on-one interviews; focused roundtable discussions; and an in-person workshop where leaders from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors collaborated to identify Muskogee’s future opportunities. In addition to identifying strategies and actions under five goal areas (collaboration, business development, talent development, placemaking, and marketing), the work highlighted five catalyst projects. These large-scale, high-impact initiatives are intended to jumpstart development and have transformative effects throughout the community. Examples include the creation of a dedicated funding stream for investment in downtown Muskogee (patterned after Oklahoma City’s groundbreaking MAPS initiative) and the establishment of an “Accelerate Muskogee” initiative designed to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem.