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Business Strategic growth: Sturns is on the front line for Fort Worth...

Strategic growth: Sturns is on the front line for Fort Worth development

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Why Fort Worth? Robert Sturns points to a number of reasons why companies are looking to Fort Worth for growth opportunities, but the top ones would be:

1. Large population growth and business-friendly environment

2. Experienced labor force across a number of industries

3. Available land for development opportunities

4. Proximity to Dallas Fort Worth International Airport – which can give you access to every major city in the continental U.S. within four hours

5. Low cost of living

6. Excellent pool of college graduates through higher education system

7. Cultural amenities such as Bass Hall, Cultural District Museums

Helping Fort Worth grow is Robert Sturns’ mission. And as the city he loves continues to expand, so does his vision.

Sturns has been with the City of Fort Worth in the economic development department for most of the last 16 years, including director for the past year. He started with the city in 2000 as business development coordinator, a job he held until 2007, when he joined the City of Arlington as its economic development director. After nearly three years in Arlington, he returned to the City of Fort Worth in 2010 and resumed his focus on Cowtown’s economic development.

Sturns, 48, has more than 20 years of experience as a leader in municipal government, commercial real estate and banking operations. He has won numerous awards and accolades for creative and successful business recruitment/retention efforts. He has been involved in helping produce over $2.2 billion in new capital investment, 14 million square feet of commercial development and about 16,500 jobs.

Among the many board positions he has held, Sturns is past president of the Greater Fort Worth Area Economic Development Association, a board member of the Multicultural Alliance and Cristo Rey Fort Worth and ex-officio board member for Forth Worth South Inc. and Fort Worth Sister Cities International. He is also a member of the Texas Economic Development Council, International Council of Shopping Centers, National Business Incubator Association, Rotary Club and Leadership Fort Worth.

Sturns was a commissioned officer the U.S. Army Reserve, where he reached the rank of captain in his 10 years of service. He holds a master’s degree in administration from Texas Christian University and a bachelor’s degree from Stephen F. Austin State University.

Sturns’ family is originally from Texas, but he was born in Kansas. They moved back to Texas when he was about 5 and he has been here ever since. He spoke recently with the Fort Worth Business Press.

What is the most challenging part of your job and why?

The most challenging part of my job is keeping things moving forward on the number of different projects we are working on at any given time. As you can tell by all the cranes and traffic cones, it is a very good time to be in Fort Worth from a development standpoint. As a department, we need to ensure that we keep the momentum flowing and look for new opportunities to diversify the many industries in our community.

What is your favorite part of your job and why?

The best part of my job is being able to drive around the city and see different developments that you had a hand in bringing to the city. From the Alliance area, to West Seventh, Near Southside and Southeast Fort Worth, there have been a number of projects that have benefited from the economic development tools we utilize that grow the tax base and increase employment opportunities. It gives me a great sense of personal satisfaction to see the growth, and the partnerships that have developed over the years to bring these projects forward mean a lot to me.

What would you consider the highlight of your career in economic development?

That’s sort of like picking your favorite child. I’m really proud of a lot of projects that we have worked on over the years. Obviously being a part of the team that brought Facebook to Fort Worth has been a highlight for me. Not only because I’m a big fan of social media, but also because of the potential opportunities it may bring us in the future. But certainly projects like the American Airlines and Bell Helicopter facilities rank very high as well from a corporate HQ standpoint. I’ve also been very proud of what we have been able to do from a small-business development standpoint through our efforts at the James E. Guinn Entrepreneurial Campus. The larger projects get most of the press, but helping our small businesses grow is a key element to a healthy economy.

What are your major goals for the future of growth in Fort Worth and how do you see that coming to fruition?

We are undertaking a comprehensive economic development strategic planning process later this year. Our hope is to have the plan completed by summer of 2017 and it will guide us in our overall efforts over the next five years. This is an initiative that we have needed for some time, so I’m very excited to be able to get it underway. A key part of the effort will be involving all of the various stakeholders in the community so we can effectively implement the plan once it is complete. We have to work on increasing the economic prosperity of our citizens and one way to do that is to have a focus on higher paying jobs when we look to utilize our incentive tools. For several years, Fort Worth’s residential growth has outpaced the commercial growth, and this is a trend we need to address over the next few years.

Where do you see the growth in Fort Worth in 10 years?

With a growing industrial segment and low vacancy rates, Fort Worth is poised to handle the strong demand for commercial development better than most markets. The availability of raw land in the city boundaries, and highway construction projects like the North Tarrant Express and Chisholm Trail Parkway will allow future development opportunities to occur as Fort Worth’s population continues to expand to the far north and southwest markets. Areas like the Walsh Ranch development will be key to this growth and with over 10,500 acres of development that is underway between industrial, office, retail, multi-family and hospitality, we should continue to have a vibrant market for the next decade and beyond.

Was or is anyone else in your family involved in finance?

My family has long served in the public realm of Fort Worth. My father, Vernell Sturns, was a former assistant city manager for Fort Worth and went on to serve as executive director of [Dallas Fort Worth International] Airport. My uncle, the Honorable Louis Sturns, is a judge for State District Court 213 and was a founding Fellow of the Tarrant County Bar Foundation. I have many other successful siblings, uncles and cousins in the DFW area, so we are involved in a number of interests. Our family has always stressed the importance of education and providing for those who may not have had as many opportunities as we have been given. That is why giving back through public and civic service is of such importance to all of us.

What are your hobbies?

I’ve been into Crossfit for about two years now and I’ve really become addicted to the workouts. I run regularly and try to read and travel as often as I can. But mainly, I enjoy spending time with my family and keeping up with my sons as much as I can.

Closing thoughts?

Education is a very important piece of the puzzle when we talk about the economic health of our community. I’m very proud to be involved in bringing the Cristo Rey model to Fort Worth as part of the efforts of the Catholic Diocese. I think Cristo Rey Fort Worth [High School] will provide a unique opportunity for lower-income students that are focused on trying to get a college education in future. As a member of the feasibility team, we are actively looking for corporate partners that want to be involved in the initiative.

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