Bartlesville sees signs of growth despite pandemic

Built on the discovery of oil in 1897 that led to the founding of Phillips Petroleum Company in 1917, Bartlesville has long been touted as a city of innovation. Home to many national and international companies, its entrepreneurial spirit never seems to waver.

By many outside indications today, one could say that Bartlesville’s economy is still growing.

Sales tax collections, a sign of economic health for any community, have been around $1.8 million per month for the past six months. It was beyond expectation under any circumstances let alone a pandemic.

The population has increased by 4.3% since 2010 according to the US census. Before 2010, growth was slightly lower: 2.83% from 2000 to 2010 and 1.27% from 1990 to 2000.

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Perhaps most impressive is the unemployment rate. At 2.5%, it is the third lowest in the country, according to the Bartlesville Chamber of Commerce. However, many fear that the pandemic, especially the new strain of COVID, threatens this rosy picture.

City officials believe the strength in sales tax collections last year stemmed both from people going out more after the first wave of the pandemic and from economic stimulus plans rather than growth real business.

Bartlesville Public Schools will seek approval for a $1,250 signing bonus from the school board next week for support staff due to the pandemic, BPS spokesperson Granger Meador said.

“We have an unprecedented number of vacancies,” Meador said. “We are facing staffing in our support services similar to what is happening across the country.”

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Currently, Bartlesville schools have 39 staff and teachers in isolation due to COVID and 100 students absent.

Washington County is seeing a 111.8% increase in COVID cases with 180 last week compared to 85 cases two weeks ago. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 41% of the county’s population is fully immunized and 52% of the population receives at least one dose. Nationally, the rate of being fully vaccinated is 63%.

“I know a lot of businesses are looking for employees,” said Sherri Wilt, president of the Bartlesville Regional Chamber of Commerce. “Many offer incentives to sign up or incentives just to keep their employees coming to work next week. It’s a tough time for many, especially service industries and skilled manufacturing jobs. »

Wilt said that at the state and local levels, labor issues need to be addressed to ensure businesses can hire and retain the employees they need.

The City of Bartlesville is also offering a $3,000 signing bonus to new police officers and an additional $3,000 to new recruits after a one-year probationary period, but the signing bonus is unrelated to COVID.

“We are offering signing bonuses to certified officers to increase our recruiting capacity,” Police Chief Tracy Roles said. “Hiring certified officers is economical for the department in that the department does not pay the cost of having to send someone to CLEET for 16 weeks.”

The roles pointed out that hiring agents who are already CLEET-certified allows them to be sole agents sooner, which increases the available manpower.

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Skyline of the city of Bartlesville on January 13, 2022.

Currently, Washington County’s labor force stands at 22,698 with 438 unemployed, according to the Oklahoma Job Security Commission. Figures from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics on projected job growth for Washington County will not be released until late February.

Chris Batchelder, vice president of business development for the Bartlesville Development Authority, doesn’t think COVID will be a drag on Bartlesville’s economic growth.

“We have several promising projects in the pipeline for Bartlesville that will create jobs,” Batchelder said.

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