Norman, Okla., founded in 1889 about 20 miles to the south of Oklahoma City, may be best known for the Sooners, the legendary college football team that calls it home. And the University of Oklahoma is certainly a major development driver for the city. But there’s more here than just a large college campus.

“Norman is a midsized community that … has big-town amenities and small-town charm and accessibility,” says Don Wood, executive director of the Norman Economic Development Coalition. The city also boasts a vibrant downtown, historic neighborhoods, and so many special events that it’s known as the City of Festivals.

Norman is also known for its weather, sitting as it does in Tornado Alley. And architects working here have to know a thing or two about structures that can withstand 250-mph-plus winds and flying debris. “Few buildings are designed to be self-contained tornado shelters, but I think most architects consider the effects of such storms,” says Larry Stubblefield, principal at local firm LWPB Architecture. He adds that clients are requesting spaces that can be used as shelters and serve other functions. LWPB included just such a room in a Hitachi plant addition it designed.

More notably, the Hitachi project was partly funded through the Oklahoma Community Economic Development Pooled Finance program, which provides taxable bond proceeds for investments in local projects. The funding kept Hitachi in Norman, enabling the company to more than double its capacity, retain jobs, and add new positions. It’s the first project in the state to use the program.

With incentives like this and an educated labor pool (51 percent of residents have at least a bachelor’s degree), Norman’s more than OK with business. “Norman is definitely a significant power in the region that both retains and attracts creativity and intellect,” says Boynton Williams & Associates project architect Christian Ballard.

Current population: 112,551; annual growth over several years: a steady 2%.

Vacancy rates across the city are less than 5%.

Median home sale price, midyear 2010: $166,977.

• Major research university
• Well-educated workforce
• Proximity to Oklahoma City

• Inadequate infrastructure
• Dwindling water supply
• Rising home prices

“Norman will continue to revitalize its downtown and … fill in its boundaries,” says Christian Ballard, project architect at local firm Boynton Williams & Associates. “This growth will continue to be deliberate and steady. An economic boom is not anticipated, but the desirability of living in this town will continue.”