Oklahoma's economy looks similar to 1980's prior to bust
OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma's economy has lived and breathed through oil and gas. It was this state's currency for decades.As the bubble continued to inflate through the 80's, people lived high. Through 1981, it was 20% of the state's total income and nearly 10% of total employment. Then the bottom fell out. At the lowest point of the 80's oil bust, 100,000 jobs were lost in Oklahoma, billions of dollars went up in the air, like a oil rig blowout.Fast forward to today. Economists like Russell Evans say the oil and gas environment mirrors the 80's in many ways."It certainly reminds you of those times a little bit, and those times were so, so scary, so real, so significant in our economic history that we look back on it with pause for good reason," Evans said.In fact, Oklahoma only recently returned to pre-bust economic levels. It was, in short, an economic recession so large, it lasted nearly 25 years."We're not quite back to some of those reliance, which is probably a good thing, but we certainly are back to a level where we are reliant on the industry as an engine of economic growth," Evans said.Now things are recovering, in part, with the very industry that got us there in the first place, a fact mayor Mick Cornett says he's aware of.Oklahoma City's growth can be attributed to things like the MAPS projects, and many oil and gas companies say OKC's transformation were the reason they came to Oklahoma in the first place.But Cornett concedes the city may count on oil and gas too much."If someone wants to make the case that we're over-reliant on the energy industry, they're absolutely right," Cornett said.But city and industry leaders learned a key lesson from the bust: no industry can be too big to fail."We made some major steps to diversify about 20 years ago and we're seeing some of the positive repercussions of that now," Cornett said.That diversification is key. If oil and gas collapsed today, it would take 10 percent of the state's economy with it, and that would hurt, but that's half the impact the bust had in the 80's.Still, Cornett says there's more to work on."Despite our successes in diversifying the economy, the energy industry has sort of out-diversified us, in other words, it's continued to grow exponentially. It's a good problem to have, especially in good times," Cornett said."A repeat of what happened in '82 and '86, seems relatively unlikely," Evans said.