Leadership perspectives:
Clay Bennett

By Chamber Staff / Member News / April 3, 2017

Clay Bennett, president of Dorchester Capital, served as the chair of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber in 1996.

“When we came together for MAPS in 1993, it gave us something to hold onto – it gave us hope,” Bennett said. “Just the notion that we had something to look forward to, to work on, and that we believed would mean so much for the future, really turned our attitudes around. Then when it passed, it was a new day.”

Clay Bennett, Chamber chair in 1996, stayed in Oklahoma City to start his career while many people were choosing to leave. As a lifelong Oklahoman, Bennett had a deep connection to the area that gave him an incentive to invest in the community. 

“There were reasons to leave. For many years there was not the opportunity that there is today,” Bennett said. “But because of my roots here and because of how my wife and I love this place and love the people, which of course is the key, we had to make it better.”

Bennett and everyone interested in investing in Oklahoma City at the time faced a common obstacle: the difficult economic environment of the 1980s.

“Many of our friends left because there was no work,” Bennett said. “There were no jobs for these young people getting started, and it wasn’t any fun.

Once Oklahoma City emerged on the other side of its economic depression, the movement to improve Oklahoma City gained traction. With Oklahoma City’s centennial celebration, the 100th anniversary of the Land Run and the U.S. Olympic Sports Festival all taking place in 1989, Oklahoma City residents finally had something to rally around.

“We began to think, ‘We can do things. We can do these things. We can raise the money. There are interested people. Companies are willing to invest, and companies are willing to invest in young people,’” Bennett said. “It became clear that we were heading in a different direction.”

Born out of a Chamber board retreat, the MAPS proposal was a chance for Oklahoma City to pull itself up by its bootstraps. After a Chamber-run campaign, Oklahoma City residents approved the original MAPS proposal in 1993, and Bennett views that moment as a true turning point in the morale of Oklahoma City residents.

“When we came together for MAPS in 1993, it gave us something to hold onto – it gave us hope,” Bennett said. “Just the notion that we had something to look forward to, to work on, and that we believed would mean so much for the future, really turned our attitudes around. Then when it passed, it was a new day.”

The generation of people who stayed and their commitment to Oklahoma City has reaped benefits and transformed Oklahoma City into a place full of energy and life.

“All around the city, in all quadrants and all areas, it’s booming. It’s exciting,” Bennett said. “When I’m in a bad traffic jam or I can’t get a reservation, I’ll for a minute wince and wonder what happened to the old days. How wonderful that is that you can’t get a table in a restaurant.”

And now, instead of being a city that lost a generation of residents, Oklahoma City is making a name for itself as a place where anything is possible.

“You can do anything you want to do here,” Bennett said. “I think that pioneering spirit of Oklahoma is as alive today as it’s ever been. If you want to do something, go do it. You can do it, and you’ll be helped along the way by good people. I can’t think of a better place in the country to set up shop and get going.”

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