Proposal for a Consular Row Development

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Proposal for a Consular Row Development
Bart Binning, Ed.D.

The year 2021 will prove to be significant with regards to Oklahoma’s relationship with the international community.  November 1st is the effective date for HB 1140[1], a bill that transferred the Oklahoma International Protocol Office (the organization responsible for coordinating international consular affairs) from the Secretary of State to the Oklahoma Department of Commerce and under the Commerce Executive Director Brent Kisling.  Additionally, the United Mexican States in October announced that there will be a Mexican consulate in Oklahoma City.  The Mexican Consulate will become the second consulate headed by a career council general located in the state’s capital, joining the Consulate of the Republic of Guatemala.[2]  It is thought that with the addition of this second consulate, there would be a critical mass for the development of a Consulate Row, a real estate development that would provide a centralized location for consulates and chanceries.  By locating a Consulate Row near state government offices and providing good access to public transportation, it would benefit the foreign countries by providing easy consular access to a country’s nationals.

Historically, embassies and consulates have been one country’s primary source of information as well as being a significant plot component in novels based on foreign mystery and intrigue. These “foreign missions” were also often empowered to make significant decisions at a time when international communications were problematic.  However, with the advent of the Internet, (rapid communication between all parts of the globe), there has been a change in focus of foreign missions.  While a mission’s section of Consular Affairs, (which deals with passports, visas, translation services, and works as a liaison with law enforcement agencies) is still an important face to face function of foreign missions, an increasingly important function of consulates is to facilitate trade, tourism, and economic development.

It is arguable that the incentive of economic development was a reason for the transfer of the International Protocol Office to the Department of Commerce, with the provision that the Commerce department shall work “for the encouragement of international trade opportunities for Oklahoma businesses, encourage and assist in private efforts toward the development of interpersonal relationships between citizens of this state and citizens of other nations.”[3]

The Department of Commerce currently coordinates local Community Development (through Community Block Grants, Main Street Revitalization programs, etc.), Foreign Trade Zones (which provide incentives for imports and exports), and other Business Services.[4]   It could be construed that the Commerce Department might, with the passage of HB 1140, have a new interest in developing a consulate district to house consulates and chanceries.  This central location, would provide convenient access to a country’s foreign nationals, provide convenient access of consular staff to state officials, and also enhance the development of a community interested in fostering international trade.

The recently announced Mexican Consulate in Oklahoma City will have a career consul general, that will represent the more than 106K Mexican Citizens currently living in or visiting the region.  The Guatemala Consulate, also with a career consul general is currently housed in an office building on the NW Expressway and MacArthur.  Additionally, there are eleven other Honorary councils who offer varying degrees of Consular services out of local business offices in Norman, Oklahoma City, and Tulsa.[5] [6]

 

 

Additionally, Oklahoma City Sinter Cities group has relationships with cities in Brazil, Mexico, Taiwan, Peru, Russia, and Rwanda (http://sistercitiesokc.org/about-us/our-cities).

While a foreign government is responsible for the security of their embassy and consulate, there are also duties and responsibilities of local US governments in their relations with embassies and consulates.  A local government could realize economies by locating a group of consulates in the same development.

From a tourism standpoint, a full-time consular presence might encourage international tourists to visit the state. With the opening of the First American Museum as well as nearby tribal cultural centers, Oklahoma City is becoming a tourist destination with international tourists becoming an increasingly key factor in our local economy.  Additionally, the presence of a convenient to reach consular office may also increase the number of Oklahoma residents visiting the foreign country, which may help establish international flights from airports.

From an economic perspective, a Consulate Row near the Oklahoma Capital complex (Oklahoma Departments of State, Agriculture, and Commerce) might help facilitate international trade as well as economic development and foreign investment in the State.

From a local development perspective, a Consulate Row in a low-density area of the Innovation District (Automobile Alley) or found near mass transit (perhaps on the proposed NW Express Bus route or the OKC Trolley) would create high pedestrian traffic. A destination development with an international focus might be an attraction for both office and retail markets. Attorneys and other consultants involved in international affairs might find it attractive to office near state agencies as well as consulates.

From a design standpoint, a Consulate Row would be a place for both consular staffs to conduct business and a chancery to house consular staff (for missions headed by career consuls, Guatemala and (in the future) Mexico). A Consulate Row might feature renovated single tenant buildings designed with architectural features identifiable to the represented country. A part of a Consulate Row development might be public restaurants with sufficient meeting space for consular sponsored meetings and entertainment. Financing a consulate row might be facilitated with a city’s help, through a TIF or MAPS funding, community block grants, etc.

My guess is that two full-time consulates would be a sufficient critical mass for a destination Consulate Row development that could be effectively marketed by the Greater OKC Chamber. I would also guess that within 10 years we would have at least six full-time consulates. Below is a list of countries that might see benefit from setting up a full-time consulate presence in the state.

 

 

Ranking   of   Selected   Countries

Country              Export   Import   Resident Population in OKC Metro

Australia                  12         19                    44

Bangladesh             21         23                    30

Belgium                    23        16                     ?

Brazil                         13         17                    28

Canada                       1           1                    10

China                           6           2                      5

France^                    18        10                     ?

Germany^                3           4                    11

Guatemala*            ?           ?                      4

India                          19          8                      3

Israel                         17         24                     ?

Japan^                       4           5                    18

Korea (South)^         9         12                     7

Mexico*^                 2           3                      1

Norway^                   ?            ?                      ?

Philippines                ?            ?                      6

Poland                      10          ?                    35

Romania^                 ?           ?                    42

Russia                        ?           ?                    25

Saudi Arabia           11          ?                    26

Singapore                  7          20                     ?

Spain^                      16           ?                     ?

Switzerland^           ?          13                     ?

South Africa              8           7                     ?

Taiwan                        ?           9                    20

Thailand                     ?          15                    22

Uruguay^                  ?           ?                     ?

United Kingdom^ 10           6                    12

Vietnam                  24           11                      2

 

^ Countries with some Consular Services in Oklahoma

* Country with fill-time Consulate

? Unranked

 

Sources:

Exports: https://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/statistics/state/data/ok.html

Imports: https://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/statistics/state/data/imports/ok.html

Population: https://stacker.com/oklahoma/oklahoma-city/biggest-sources-immigrants-oklahoma-city

[1] HB 1140 of the 1st Session of the 58th Legislature (2021).  HB 1140 transfers the Oklahoma Chief International Protocol Office from the Office of the Secretary of State to the Department of Commerce. By Representative Scott Fetgatter and Senator Zack Taylor.    http://www.oklegislature.gov/BillInfo.aspx?Bill=hb1140&Session=2100).

[2] Viamontes, Robert.  Mexican government announces plan for OKC consulate.  NonDoc, October 26, 2021 (https://nondoc.com/2021/10/26/mexican-government-announces-okc-consulate)

[3] HB 1140 – ibid

[4] https://www.okcommerce.gov/

[5]  Embassypages.com has “established itself as the internet’s authoritative source for information about embassies and consulates offering frequently updated, verified and accurate information about more than 27,000 embassies, high commissions, consulates and other diplomatic and consular offices around the world.”   (https://www.embassypages.com/city/oklahomacity)

[6] Morriss, Chris.  Former Oklahoma Chief International Protocol Officer, Conversation November 11, 2021

* Position currently vacant

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