The Edmond Sun


March 18, 2013

AGAINST THE GRAIN: McAlester hearkens back to its boomtown status

OKLA. CITY — In the early 1900s the presence of coal in the red soil of McAlester transformed that Southeastern Oklahoma community into a boom town, and people from across the world came there to work in the coal mines. At the time of Oklahoma Statehood in 1907 McAlester ranked only behind Oklahoma City in the size of its population.

Congressman Carl Albert of McAlester, who served as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in the early 1970s, would write in his memoirs that McAlester had communities of Italians, Russians, Mexicans, Syrians and Bulgarians when he was growing up there. Albert detailed that the largest immigrant group in McAlester was the Italians, and he wrote of them and their cultural and culinary traditions with affection. Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times reporter and Oklahoma City native Anthony Shadid would write in his book “House of Stone” of how his ancestors had emigrated from Lebanon in the 1920s to the McAlester area to operate stores that sold goods to the miners and their families.

But when oil became the nation’s chief source of energy most of the mines closed, and McAlester is perhaps best known today as the home of the state’s maximum security prison where executions are conducted. But in recent years McAlester has made efforts to encourage economic development. That effort has been spearheaded by several civic groups there, including the MPower organization.

The executive director of that entity, Shari Cooper, has a master’s degree in urban planning from the University of Oklahoma, and previously had worked as an urban planner in London, England, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Oklahoma City. Cooper recently explained that her organization has begun to use social media as a way to promote McAlester and Pittsburg County as both a business site and a tourist destination.

Those efforts include a video that is on the MPower website that was made by Cooper Ross of Insight Visual Media  of Edmond that details how McAlester is home to a military installation and several plants that produce equipment used by the U.S. military. It also describes how McAlester is close to the urban areas of Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Dallas, and is connected to those cities with interstate highways and enjoys a low cost of living and a trained workforce. The video describes the waterways, including Lake Eufaula and woods that are located in the McAlester area,  and reports that McAlester is a vacation destination as well. Cooper reports that her company recently commissioned a study by a national marketing organization on how to obtain the best return on the tax revenues that are generated by the motel room tax that is imposed in McAlester. The Italians that Albert remembered with fondness have left a legacy of Italian restaurants and stores and an annual Italian festival in McAlester, and the report received by Mpower concluded that McAlester should  publicize them and other attractions in efforts to bring visitors to it. The report suggested that McAlester should  advertise in print and Internet publications in Dallas, Oklahoma City and Tulsa, as well as conventions held in places such as Fort Worth and New Orleans.   

Many communities create social media websites that allow visitors and residents to upload photos and stories to it, and it was suggested by the report’s authors that McAlester should create a similar site. Some communities in Oklahoma, including Ardmore, Edmond and Enid, have Convention and Visitors Bureaus that work to bring people in to tour their towns. The report also recommended that McAlester use 22 percent of the revenues generated by the motel room tax to create such an entity.

While McAlester may not become a boomtown again, it is possible that it will experience growth and economic development as a result of the work done by Mpower and other civic organizations located there.

WILLIAM F. O’BRIEN is an Oklahoma City attorney.

Text Only
  • Bangladesh’s sweatshops — a boycott is not the answer

    One year ago this week, the eight-story Rana Plaza garment factory collapsed in Bangladesh’s capital city of Dhaka, killing 1,129 people. The building’s top floors had been added illegally, and their weight caused the lower stories to buckle. Many of the victims were young women who had been sewing low-priced clothes for Western brands, earning a minimum wage of about $9 a week. It was the worst disaster in garment industry history.

    April 24, 2014

  • Loosening constraints on campaign donations and spending doesn’t destroy democracy

    Campaign finance reformers are worried about the future. They contend that two Supreme Court rulings — the McCutcheon decision in March and the 2010 Citizens United decision — will magnify inequality in U.S. politics.
    In both cases, the court majority relaxed constraints on how money can be spent on or donated to political campaigns. By allowing more private money to flow to campaigns, the critics maintain, the court has allowed the rich an unfair advantage in shaping political outcomes and made “one dollar, one vote” (in one formulation) the measure of our corrupted democracy.
    This argument misses the mark for at least four reasons.

    April 23, 2014

  • The top 12 government programs ever

    Which federal programs and policies succeed in being cost-effective and targeting those who need them most? These two tests are obvious: After all, why would we spend taxpayers' money on a program that isn't worth what it costs or helps those who do not need help?

    April 23, 2014

  • Free trade on steroids: The threat of the Trans-Pacific Partnership

    Many supporters of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, trade agreement are arguing that its fate rests on President Obama’s bilateral talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Japan this week. If Japan and the United States can sort out market access issues for agriculture and automobiles, the wisdom goes, this huge deal — in effect, a North American Free Trade Agreement on steroids — can at last be concluded.

    April 22, 2014

  • Can Hillary Clinton rock the cradle and the world?

    What's most interesting to contemplate is the effect becoming a grandmother will have on Hillary's ambition. It's one of life's unfairnesses that a woman's peak career years often coincide with her peak childbearing years.

    April 22, 2014

  • Chicago Tribune: If Walgreen Co. moves its HQ to Europe, blame Washington’s tax failure

    The Walgreen Co. drugstore chain got its start nearly a century ago in downstate Dixon, Ill., before moving its corporate headquarters to Chicago and eventually to north suburban Deerfield, Ill.
    Next stop? Could be Bern, Switzerland.
    A group of shareholders reportedly is pressuring the giant retail chain for a move to the land of cuckoo clocks. The reason: lower taxes. Much lower taxes.
    If Walgreen changes its legal domicile to Switzerland, where it recently acquired a stake in European drugstore chain Alliance Boots, the company could save big bucks on its corporate income-tax bill. The effective U.S. income-tax rate for Walgreen, according to analysts at Swiss Bank UBS: 37 percent. For Alliance Boots: about 20 percent.

    April 21, 2014

  • Sulphur a future major tourist destination?

    Greta Garbo says, “I want to be alone,” in the 1932 film “Grand Hotel.” That MGM film starred Garbo, John and Lionel Barrymore, Wallace Beery and a young actress from Lawton named Joan Crawford. It told the stories of several different people who were staying at an exclusive hotel of that name in Berlin Germany.
    It was critically well received and it inspired more recent films such as “Gosford Park” and television shows such as “Downton Abbey” in that it detailed the relationship between powerful and wealthy people and those who served them. The film opened amidst much fanfare and it received the Oscar for best picture in the year of its release.

    April 21, 2014

  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Why poverty across the world matters to Americans

    A child starving in South Sudan should matter to Americans. That was the message delivered last week by Nancy Lindborg, whose job at the U.S. Agency for International Development is to lead a federal bureau spreading democracy and humanitarian assistance across the world.
    That world has reached a critical danger zone, with three high-level crises combining military conflict with humanitarian catastrophes affecting millions of innocents in Syria, the South Sudan and the Central African Republic.
    But back to that child.

    April 18, 2014

  • Government leadership complicit in overfilling prisons

    One of the thorniest problems facing any society is the question of what to do with transgressors. Obviously, the more complicated a culture becomes, the more factors come into play in trying to figure out what to do with those who choose not to “play by the rules.”

    April 18, 2014

  • My best days are ones normal people take for granted

    It is a weekend for working around the house. My fiancee, Erin, and I have the baby’s room to paint and some IKEA furniture to assemble. I roll out of bed early — 10:30 — and get into my wheelchair. Erin is already making coffee in the kitchen.
    “I started the first wall,” she says. “I love that gray.” Erin never bugs me about sleeping late. For a few months after I was injured in the Boston Marathon bombings, I often slept 15 hours a day. The doctors said my body needed to heal. It must still be healing because I hardly ever see 8 a.m. anymore.

    April 18, 2014


Do you agree with a state budget proposal that takes some funds away from road and bridge projects to ramp up education funding by $29.85 million per year until schools are receiving $600 million more a year than they are now? In years in which 1 percent revenue growth does not occur in the general fund, the transfer would not take place.

     View Results