City, Fort Worth Chamber take on challenges

Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker delivers her first State of the City addresss. (Photo by Amber Shumake)

When Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker laid out her vision and priorities for creating a “world-class city” during her recent State of the City address, she acknowledged that this is a challenge that the city cannot accomplish alone.

Along with the city, there are many civic groups and nonprofit organizations working on solutions ranging from education and workforce development to improving public safety, helping the homeless, protecting open space and expanding mobility and transportation.

On the economic development front, the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce continues its commanding role in attracting new businesses and industries to Fort Worth, which also benefit the entire North Texas region, according to officials.

Chamber leaders point to a number of positive results, which defy the sluggish national economy, and position Fort Worth as a leading destination for businesses and industries to locate or expand operations and for entrepreneurs to launch new enterprises.

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“We continue to see strong interest in our market,” said Chris Strayer, executive vice president of economic development for the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce.

The proof is in the number of requests for proposals (RFPs) that the chamber has seen during the past five years, growing steadily from 60 in 2018 to 121 during the height of the pandemic in 2020 to 200 so far this year.

This year alone, the chamber has announced 13 new projects, and there is still nearly a quarter of the year remaining, according to a recent activity update.

These projects represent a capital investment of $605 million and the addition of 1,200 new jobs. Among the announced projects, was MP Materials’ plan to construct a factory to produce rare earth elements and magnets for General Motors’ electric vehicle program – a project that will add 150 high-skilled jobs and 1,300 indirect jobs, according to the chamber.

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Helping drive Fort Worth’s desirability is the rapid population growth that has propelled Fort Worth to the rank of the nation’s 13th largest city. The city added more than 185,000 new residents between 2010 and 2020, according to U.S. Census estimates.

During the pandemic, the Dallas-Fort Worth area was second to Phoenix in population growth and is now the country’s fourth largest metro area, surpassing Houston.

Newcomers come primarily from the West Coast and the Midwest and are attracted by Texas’ business-friendly tax and regulatory structure. Also, the area offers lifestyle and cultural opportunities and a lower density environment than many of the places newcomers exited.

Growth, along with existing population, provides Fort Worth with an advantage among companies looking for a suitable workforce.

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“Everyone wants to know about workforce,” Strayer said. “It’s very important because companies need to know that they are going to have the talent they need to be successful.

“The labor market is tough across the country but we are doing a lot better job that others,” he said.

Between the abundance of Fort Worth-based and regional higher education institutions, along with certificate-based career training programs, Fort Worth has the talent variety and availability that companies are seeking.

Besides talent, Fort Worth has an inventory of available real estate, which is also important for companies seeking to relocate or build a new facility, Strayer said.

Fort Worth has seen recent investment in hospitality, particularly new hotels such as The Sinclair Fort Worth, the Kimpton Harper Hotel and the AC Hotel Downtown, all located downtown.

The city has also seen growth in biotech portfolio with companies such as Eosera, an innovator in ear care products, joining the established world leader in vision care, Alcon Laboratories.

Nevertheless, the chamber’s strategic growth focus is on growing its core industries of aerospace and defense, mobility, energy, and innovation. Another priority is attracting more corporate headquarters.

“We want to support the businesses that are already here and grow those sectors in the market as well,” Strayer said.

The chamber’s efforts to achieve those goals include ambitious marketing efforts, including a 2021 rebranding to focus programs and initiatives on attracting the “next generation” of business leaders and entrepreneurs.

The chamber’s other strategies to achieve its ambitious economic development goals include the city’s ongoing coordination with city initiatives and the recent introduction of the Fort Worth Chamber’s Regional Economic Development Partnership program, a first-of-its kind effort that brings together nearly 20 cities, counties and economic development organizations on the western side of the DFW area.

The aim of the program is to replace competition with cooperation among the partner cities. By combining efforts to showcase what is available on the Fort Worth side of the DFW, everyone in this area wins, Strayer said.

“If a project lands in Southlake, it would benefit all of us because there would be new job creation and those employees would live and spend money in Fort Worth and the other local communities,” Strayer said.

Strayer said the chamber continues to be involved in economic development efforts with the Dallas Regional Chamber of Commerce but the localized western side partnership program helps smaller communities get better notice than they could on their own.

Fort Worth Chamber officials take pride in the chamber’s success given that its budget of $4.5 million is less than a third of the budget of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, which has a budget of almost $18 million, yet Fort Worth works on behalf of a much larger population.

Among eight competitor chambers of commerce, the Fort Worth Chamber’s budget ranks seventh, behind Oklahoma City, Houston, Dallas, Nashville, Phoenix, and Austin. Only the San Antonio chamber’s budget lags Fort Worth’s.