The economic future of the Fort Worth-Dallas region will remain strong in 2016, with no recession in sight, however, a continuing fast-paced growth in population, jobs and business will create numerous challenges for area nonprofit organizations and other health and human service leaders.
The Economic Summit for Nonprofits, an annual event sponsored by United Way of Tarrant County and the North Texas Community Foundation, on March 24 looked at the future implications of today’s economy on philanthropy, workforce and job readiness, and service demand.
Speakers at the summit who presented perspectives on the local, state and national economies and the effects on nonprofits included David Berzina, executive vice president of economic development for the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce; Ann Beeson, executive director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin; and Loh-Sze Leung, owner of Leung Consulting in Dallas.
“It was a record year in Fort Worth,” Berzina said about 2015.
Fort Worth is the nation’s No. 1 market for commercial investment and a top market for residential appreciation, according to the Urban Land Institute, Berzina said. Fort Worth is the third fastest-growing economy among the nation’s largest cities, he said. From 2014 to 2015, the taxable valuation in Fort Worth increased $3 billion, from $64 billion to $67 billion, compared with a tax valuation of $100 billion in Dallas.
The Chamber announced 22 new development projects in 2015, and more than 5,000 new jobs created in Fort Worth last year. In the next few years, 10,500 acres of new development are coming online in Fort Worth and Tarrant County. This growth will add to traffic congestion, Berzina noted, but $3.5 billion worth of regional roadway improvements were made in 2014-2015 and billions more dollars are being invested in improvements to meet future demand.
“In Dallas-Fort Worth, 61 percent of office construction pipeline is pre-leased. Nobody else has that,” Berzina said. “We don’t see signs of a recession, and with 61 percent of office construction pre-leased, that projects Dallas-Fort Worth will have a soft landing coming out of the oil and gas slowdown we’re experiencing.”
There are 348,000 students enrolled in Dallas-Fort Worth area colleges and universities, with many graduates staying and finding jobs in the area after graduation, Berzina said.
Fort Worth is now the fourth largest MSA (metropolitan statistical area) in the United States, with a projected 2 percent growth rate to 2023. The city adds one resident every 25 minutes and is the 14th most successful city luring business from California. Texas is second to California in growth at 29.3 percent, Berzina said.
“That may not sound like a good deal,” he said. “It’s good for us, bad for California.”
He said next month the Chamber plans to announce two additional firms relocating to Fort Worth.
All this growth in construction projects, population, housing and jobs will have a continuing direct impact on local nonprofit organizations, the panelists all agreed, particularly in respect to an anticipated increased demand for agency services, as well as a direct impact on education and job readiness, both locally and statewide.
“The United Way has a lot of challenges with the service needs of the area, especially when you see that 65 people move to Fort Worth every day,” said Berzina. “That adds challenges to the United Way and to other organizations.”
Challenges do exist in the efforts being made to help every person in Texas be healthy, well-educated and financially secure, Beeson said.
“Everyone should have the chance to compete and succeed in life,” Beeson said. “Where are we now on fulfilling those goals and setting people up for success? What can we give kids to allow them to compete in life?”
The Center for Public Policy Priorities gives Tarrant County a C- on its Texas Education Scorecard, she said. One in 10 Tarrant students repeats ninth grade. The county’s high school dropout rate is 7 percent. Almost half of Texas high school graduates do not enroll in any post-secondary education.
“We’re not doing an adequate job of funding our schools so that all students get a chance for a quality education,” Beeson said.
There are bright spots, she said. Seventy percent of eligible children in Tarrant County are enrolled in public pre-K, and 73 percent of Tarrant County students enter post-secondary education, a figure slightly better than the state average.
Between 1990 and 2012, the biggest job growth, both nationally and in Dallas-Fort Worth, has been in low-wage jobs, Beeson said. Twenty-eight percent of Fort Worth/Arlington jobs do not pay enough for families to meet the cost of basic needs in this area, she said.
“Texas is the leader in creating low-wage jobs. That’s why you see so much poverty,” she said.
In Tarrant County, Beeson said it takes $47,664 a year for a working family of two adults with two children to make ends meet.
Beeson recommended helping families by increasing the minimum wage, updating the state’s school finance system, expanding pre-K, lowering the cost of college, and strengthening connections between the education system and the workforce. She encouraged everyone to become involved in policy change.
“Policy change is critical. Fact-based policy solutions are the answer,” she said. “We are so glad that United Way and the other nonprofits here know that you can be engaged in policy change.”
Leung, the final speaker, is principal author of, “Strengthening Dallas-Fort Worth: Building a Middle-Skill Pipeline to Sustain Economic Growth and Expand Opportunity,” a report issued by JPMorgan Chase & Co.
The Dallas-Fort Worth region is thriving, Leung says, with new companies and new residents but the area faces challenges, including job readiness, which leads to poverty. The poverty rate in Fort Worth is 20.1 percent, and is higher in Dallas at 24.4 percent.
“There are tremendous opportunities here in the Metroplex,” she said. “A significant amount of the growth in the opportunities we have does come from middle-skill jobs.”
Middle-skill jobs make up almost 30 percent of employment in the area. These are jobs that require more than a high school education but not a bachelor’s degree. She said these positions comprise nearly 960,000 jobs in the Metroplex and they pay rather well, $24.47 per hour on average, 35 percent higher than the region’s living wage of $18.08. Middle-skill jobs are expected to continue to grow, with 42,000 openings over the next two years.
Leung said middle-skill jobs are important in five key sectors locally: health care, information technology, finance, aerospace and electronics/manufacturing. IT is the fastest-growing sector in Texas, she said.
“They represent the wave of the future, especially IT,” Leung said.
Despite the growing demand for middle-skill workers, many D-FW residents lack the basic academic and job readiness skills required to start a middle-skill career. Twenty-two percent of Dallas-Fort Worth adults – or 950,000 people – do not have a high school credential. The result is that 1 in 5 people lives in poverty.
“More and more employers are looking for a bachelor’s degree. You need a secondary education. There is no upward mobility without it,” Leung said.
Her recommendations included helping people finish high school and increasing awareness of middle-skill job opportunities through internships and on-the-job training. She encouraged business and education leaders to work together in helping people obtain entry-level jobs and move up through the ranks.
“This is an economic development issue as well as an issue of providing people with economic opportunity,” she said.