State of the City: Mayor Parker says Fort Worth is strong, prosperous and growing

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

The youngest mayor of any major city in America believes the way for Fort Worth to continue moving forward is to combine the old with the new.

Mayor Mattie Parker delivered her inaugural State of the City address Thursday before a crowd of around 1,000 at Dickies Arena. The event that was sponsored by the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce.

“If you know our mayor, you know she is Fort Worth,” Chamber CEO Brandom Gengelbach said as he began the program. “She knows and understands our history and Western heritage. The mayor has a vision for us becoming a world-class city, but also to not lose our culture.”

Parker, who will turn 39 in November, was elected in June of 2021. In her speech she reflected on the past 15 months while also looking ahead.

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“This is the state of Fort Worth: strong, prosperous, and growing. If you are a city that is not growing, then you’re dying,” she said. “We cannot take growth for granted, and we must manage that growth and vision for the future.”

Among the many topics Parker discussed was the long-delayed Panther Island flood control and economic development project, thanking U.S. Reps. Kay Granger and Marc Veasey for helping secure more than $400 million in federal funds for the project, which she said will transform the north end of downtown.

“This project is absolutely happening,” Parker said.

Parker also noted other signs of success:

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  • Fort Worth, Tarrant County, Goff Capital, and UNT Health Science Center partnered with Techstars, a global investment accelerator, to provide capital to 10 high-growth physical health industry startups.
  • Texas A&M University announced plans for a massive expansion of its presence in Fort Worth and creation  of a major research facility.
  • Texas Christian University, which will celebrate its 150th year in 2023, is building a new campus for its Burnett School of Medicine in the Fort Worth Medical District.
  • Record numbers of new jobs have been created in the city this year.
  • An average of 328 new people are moving into the area every day.

“All of you in this room deserve credit for this,” she told the crowd.

Parker addressed the question of becoming a world-class city with her own question:

“We are home to an increasingly diverse population of nearly one million residents. We range in age, race, gender, profession, economic background, and political affiliation. We attack problems, not people. And so, my biggest question for us all today – ‘What does it take to be a world-class city?’”

Parker then answered the question:

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Education and workforce

“The foundation of all healthy developed countries, of international cities of significance, all starts with education. The Fort Worth of tomorrow is being shaped in the classrooms of today,” she said. “We must come to the realization that in Fort Worth we, the collective we, have not ensured that success is actually possible for all  students, and that is directly connected to our success as a community.

“My vision is that every single student has access to a credential or a degree before they graduate high school in Fort Worth.”

With only 23 percent of students graduating and attaining a credential, Parker stressed a need to increase that number. She then gave an example of something she’d like to see more of, recognizing Brandon Irvin, who graduated from Crowley Collegiate Academy with an associate degree and is now a student at Texas Wesleyan University.

The Mayor’s Council on Education & Workforce Development was established to influence and enhance educational programs and career pathways in Fort Worth public schools to help prepare students for their future careers, including careers that help meet the current and future needs of business and industry in Fort Worth and North Texas.

“We are making significant inroads, but there is still work to be done,” Parker said.

Striving to be the safest city possible

Violent crime has risen across the United States, including in Fort Worth. Parker noted that since April, the Fort Worth Police Department’s violent crime detail has made 792 arrests from felony  warrants and seized 377 guns.

Parker said that there have been 82 homicides in Fort Worth so far in 2022, 19 of which were caused by domestic  violence.

To combat such statistics, Parker said the city’s $2.3 billion adopted Sept. 27 includes:

  • 53 additional sworn officers plus 14 civilian positions.
  • Dedicated support to the Neighborhood Patrol program, HOPE Team, and Crisis Intervention Team.
  • Trainees to support 9-1-1 communications.
  • 16 firefighter positions.

“We are making investments in public safety that work for the community and also ensure that police have what they need to do their most difficult jobs,” Parker said. “We ask police to be all things to all people all the time. These are solutions that are pro-community and pro-police.”

Maintaining a clean city

“In addition to the investment we’re making in public safety, city leadership brought us the opportunity to increase our investments, with the goal of becoming the cleanest city in the country,” Parker said.

Helping the homeless

Together with Tarrant County, Parker said, Fort Worth has committed to creating nearly 500 housing units for the homeless in the city and county. The total includes up to 100 units for homeless families.

“In Fort Worth, we are not investing in city-sanctioned homeless camps. Instead, we are investing in housing and services,” Parker said.

Protecting open space

“As one of the fastest-growing cities in America, we also have a responsibility to protect and expand our open spaces for future generations,” Parker said. In 2020, she said, Fort Worth was losing an average of 50 acres of natural land each week to development. The city has preserved 150 acres of natural areas through the Fort Worth Open Space Conservation Program, she said.

Improve development services

“My vision for the future is that we run the city the way you run your businesses. Better results. Ahead of schedule. A get-to-yes focused attitude,” Parker said, stressing that the effort should come at no extra cost to taxpayers.

Currently, Parker detailed as an example, the city processes over 19,000 building permits per year, and it takes just over three weeks on average to issue a permit. When city government moves into its new home at the former Pier 1 building, she said, development services will be a one-stop shop on a single floor of the building.

Mobility and transportation

Parker said that from 2018 to 2026, more than $3.5 billion dollars will  have been invested in transportation projects through a combination of local, state, and federal funds. Priority projects that are spurring economic development include:

  • The East Lancaster Corridor redesign.
  • The Trinity Lakes Station in east Fort Worth that is set to open in October of 2023.
  • The TexRail expansion from downtown to the Medical District.

“When it comes to public transportation, we must meet two important objectives. First, we must meet the needs of our residents who depend on it for health care, for jobs, and for education,” Parker said. “Second, we need to use transit projects to spur economic development.”

Innovation and economic development

“We are forward-looking and focused on being a city that embraces a global economy. Even with Fort Worth’s long and rich history, we are still a city that’s just getting started,” Parker stressed, adding, “Our pioneering spirit is a continued legacy from one generation to the next.”

Following her speech, Parker was interviewed onstage by Margaret Hoover, host of PBS’ Firing Line.

Hoover opened the conversation by congratulating Parker on being named to Time magazine’s 2022 TIME100 Next list. The list honors emerging leaders who are shaping the future and appears in the Oct. 10-17 issue of the magazine.

Hoover went on to ask Parker to pick one priority that is her driving force. Parker replied that people connected with the city can always “tell a better story, be more proactive” in attacting newcomers to the city.

“Once you get people to our city they fall in love with it,” she said.

Hoover then asked Parker to discuss her No. 1 focus when it comes to public safety. Parker said making sure there are enough police officers available to residents safe – a priority that hinges on offering adequate pay.

“It’s hard to recruit young people into the profession when you can go make more at any of the businesses here today,” she said, pointing to the audience.

Hoover asked Parker about the challenges of being a “millennial mayor.” Parker noted that she works with several millennials on the city council, which saw its average age drop from 60 to 45 in the 2021 election.

“In city leadership, age is just a number,” she said. “You are so connected to your community”

Asked how she balances being mayor, a mom and a wife, Parker said, “I just want elected officials to be real people. You have people so focused on being in their political bubble they won’t sit down with other people to get stuff done.”

Parker said she is driven by the knowledge that her children and grandchildren will have to live witheverything she does as mayor. Children, hers and others, give her hope and keep her grounded, she said.

“There’s nothing that gets you out of your political bubble like going home and your son has gum on his shorts,” she said with a laugh.

In addition to the mayor’s comments, the program featured some award presentations and Parker presented the first-ever Mayor’s Unsung Hero Award to Tarrant County Criminal Court Judge Brent Carr. He has served on the bench since 1983 and plans to retire soon.

“There are people all over Fort Worth who are quietly showing leadership and making this city the very special place it is. I call them our unsung heroes,” Parker said.

The  Fort Worth Chamber also presented awards, including:

  • Best Place for Working Parents Award: Educational Employees Credit Union, Higginbotham, Schaefer Advertising, Varghese Summersett, PLCC.
  • Small Businesses of the Year: Wild Cactus Therapy, Quorum Architects, Valor Mineral Management, Chicken Salad Chick.