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Looking to the future: North Texas Commission

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North Texas Commission by the Numbers

9,000 square miles in North Texas

7.4 million people

150-plus cities

15 cities with more than 100,000 population. In 45 years, the North Texas population has grown by 5 million people – that’s greater than the current populations of 29 of the 50 states.

4th largest region in the U.S. in terms of population

North Texas grows by 1 person every 3.6 minutes

If North Texas were a state, it would be 15th in GDP and the population would be between Washington state and Arizona

37.5 years media age in North Texas

3,000 high tech firms in North Texas

3.9 million people in the North Texas labor force

And just for fun —

124 museums

6,000 arts and cultural events

1,000 miles of off-street trails for cyclists and pedestrians

200 public parks

61 wineries

60 lakes and reservoirs

60 state parks within 100 miles

13 professional sports teams

Source: North Texas Commission

Looking to the future: North Texas Commission

The North Texas Commission was established in 1971 as a public-private partnership of businesses, cities, counties, chambers of commerce, economic development entities and higher education institutions in the North Texas region.

Chris Wallace, president and CEO, was hired in May 2018 after serving as president and chief operating officer of the Texas Association of Business. Wallace also was president and CEO of the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber, the third largest chamber in North Texas.

He describes the role of the commission in three pillars:

– The ability to convene stakeholders around major issues;

– The resources to educate others about the advantages of North Texas and market those advantages through research to coordinate a unified message over a wide area and a large number of cities and chambers of commerce; and

– The ability to study pending or potential legislation in Austin and on the federal level, coordinate uniform positions and lobby elected officials on the region’s desires and priorities.

Examples for the coming 86th Legislature include health care, the infrastructure of transportation and water, improved education and increased workforce training and issues affecting economic development.

Significantly, priorities include opposing any legislation “that would be discriminatory or otherwise damage Texas’s reputation as a business-friendly state,” any attempt by the Legislature to “preempt cities’ or counties’ ability to govern and raise funds as determined necessary,” legislation that expands the definition of a private and nonprofit entity that receives public funds “and their duty to respond to public information requests,” and “unfunded mandates placed on our local municipalities that are veiled as solutions for education funding.”

Wallace sat down with Fort Worth Business Press editors recently to talk about the future of NTC. Here are selected and lightly edited comments from that meeting:

REGIONAL REPRESENTATION:

One [role] is our unique ability to convene the region. We were founded, as you all know, back in ’71, to convene regions, leaders, power that be to develop DFW Airport. We’re going to get back to our roots a little bit on that initiative. That is a major economic engine for the entire region and owned by the cities of Fort Worth and Dallas, and we’ve got to keep that airport strong.

We’re going to help them on some advocacy efforts. We’re going to help them on some marketing efforts and stay very close to the good team at the airport. So many things in the region feed off of that. That is the common denominator for logistics.

That is a good example of our ability to convene the powers that be around the region to look at large, impactful projects.

Several years ago, we were very instrumental [concerning] federal and state funds to build reservoirs, so future water supply. Maybe also the importance of tollways and managed lanes, express lanes [is part of our charter].

There are 93 Chambers of Commerce in 13 counties in which we serve. And nine of them have formal government relations functions. They have a lobbyist on staff, or they contract with a lobby firm. Fort Worth’s one of those. And we are working very closely with those nine to integrate our strategies for the next session [of the Legislature].

FEDERAL AGENDA

No one in the region – we’ve had some discussions with the [North Central Texas Council of Governments] and they welcome this – is really tracking and leading the regional federal, legislative initiatives, everything from are there grant requests from higher institutions, higher education institutions, infrastructure, transportation projects, that need to have third-party advocacy? [Do we] Need to have private business leaders weighing in on those? That’s the type of depth that we’re talking about. I know the advocacy side.

INFORMATION AND LEADERSHIP

We’re very proud of our regional profile information, and we keep that constantly updated. A lot of information that goes into economic development, decision-makers hands on why choose North Texas? Why are we the fastest, No. 1 growing, metropolitan area in the entire country? Why is that? What are our top industries? What makes our economy tick? What are our challenges ahead? All this information is in our profile.

And you may have heard of our Leadership North Texas initiative. That right there has really, really enhanced the commission. And now the millennial version – North Texas University. And the purpose of those is not only to really educate business leaders, municipal leaders, civic leaders, on the great assets of the region, but also, we have a great pool now to harness that talent and get people to run for public office.

You have been through the program. You understand the region. You understand the importance of local control. You understand the importance of being pro-business. So, school board candidates, city council, state rep, state senator, county commissioner, member of Congress. We’ve got 400-plus, in terms of our alumni, and growing. I’m in the 10th year class right now. And there’s some great leaders in there that could be potential elected officials, or at very minimum, a gubernatorial appointment.

If you look at the number of gubernatorial appointments – applicants from North Texas – they’re a lot lower than other parts of the state. People are not applying. If you don’t apply you’re not going to be appointed, obviously. And we all know politics are involved with that, but you at least first have to apply.

TOLL ROADS

There are 28 million Texans. Want to guess how many of those have a toll tag? 12 million. So why would the [Legislature] want to take the advice of a local, really small, minority group of people who are very loud and say, no more tollways? And put that in your platform for the party?

Why would you want to take away their choice to use a tollway or not? You don’t have to, but if you want it it’s there, right? If I’m running late to this meeting and I have a chance to use a tollway or managed lane, I’m going to jump on it and use it. It may not be my preference all the time. But to get from point A to point B in a timely manner, I want a choice.

And what we’re saying is don’t take that away from us. Don’t tie our hands on our ability to have that integrated system of choice. And that includes the bullet train, which we’re big proponents of. That included Uber, Lyft and Uber Elevate, future modes of transportation. All are going to work together with our highway systems and airport systems. We’ve got to have it all.

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