Though globalization has become the norm in the 21st Century, it wasn’t long ago that building academic, cultural and commercial ties with the world outside America’s border was a new concept for many Oklahoman political leaders. One such statesman, former Oklahoma City Mayor Ron Norick, was at the forefront in leading the state’s capitol city into the age of globalization that followed the end of the Cold War, serving as mayor from 1987-1998. Mayor Norick spoke with the OKGIT about his experiences and the unique role that municipalities can play in forging an international Oklahoma.
On the importance of international ties for Oklahoma…“For one thing our farmers rely on it, that’s something that has always been important to the state.
“We also have a number of companies that sell domestically and internationally, which has only become more prevalent over time. You must have ties internationally; you can’t be isolated.”
On the successes of forging global partnerships during his time as mayor of Oklahoma City…
“When I came in as mayor, there was already sister cities in Taiwan which had been developed by the Oklahoma City Police Department. The departments, Oklahoma City and their counterparts in Taiwan, were cross training on best policing techniques.
“I also established one with the Hed College of Music in Yehud, Israel and Oklahoma City University. Like most of these kinds of ties and exchanges, they’re educational and cultural-based.
“We also had an exchange program at OCU with individuals coming from the former USSR in the early 1990s.They were business and economic professionals in their aviation sector who were coming here to learn about the free market, capitalism and the way the West does business. These were very high officials in their aviation sector, but they were steeped in working in the socialist and Soviet system. They were eager to learn, and they really picked up a lot in an intensive, four or five week program.”
“Haiko, the biggest city in Hainan Province, an island just off mainland of China, was a Sister City relationship that dealt with infrastructure. They got ahold of us and asked about our interest in coming to their city, which they explained was growing very rapidly.
“Hainan is known as the Hawaii of China with white beaches and is very pretty. Their city officials were interested in infrastructure developments for a municipality that was growing like crazy. They were behind in their streets, their water and sewer infrastructure, and we met with them over there and they reciprocated and met with our public works administration here. Our public works department made a great effort and helped show their officials how to plan 10, 20 or 30 years ahead of time for that kind of growth.”
On Oklahomans’ awareness of the state’s international ties…
“I don’t think international ties are on most Oklahomans’ radar, they have other things going on. Unless you have a business with international ties, you don’t worry about that.
“Those relationships are developed company to company for the most part. They’re not fostered by the consulate general or the governor at the beginning.
“If the city leaders are interested in promoting those ties and drawing international businesses to their towns, it’s pretty easy for them to know who to contact in terms of a local company that can help foster those relationships. In contrast to the state department of commerce or the U.S. Department of Commerce, it’s our town. We know the specifics and what we as a city have to offer. It’s more targeted.
“In Asia especially, when a mayor travels to a country there, it is a big deal. It’s like the President of the United States is visiting. The difference of having companies go to a foreign country on their own and say ‘I’m from Oklahoma and I want to do business,’ is not going to carry as much weight as an official delegation visiting from a mayor’s office. It legitimizes the company you’re travelling with.”
On Oklahoma’s reputation after the Murrah Building bombing in 1995…
“It might have been easier after the bombing in that a lot of people who had never thought about us before recognized where Oklahoma was and what we were about. We showed that we could take care of ourselves and our people in such a time, and that was a positive reflection.”
Mayor Ron Norick is a graduate of Oklahoma City University and served as mayor of Oklahoma City from 1987-1998. He currently serves as the controlling manager of Norick Investment Company, LLC, and is a member of the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.
(Photo of OKC Skyline courtesy of Urbanative at Wikipedia Commons).