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Council Report: Medical Innovation District can fuel citywide growth

🕐 4 min read

The growth and revival of the Near Southside area in Fort Worth may become even more enhanced as Fort Worth officials are poised to expand the area’s role into a medical innovation district. The hope is to position it to become the most livable medical district in the United States.

The Fort Worth City Council, at its May 14 work session, received a briefing on plans for this project, which includes the following principles:

*Entrepreneurship: Build on the dynamic environment that embraces and fuels high-growth business in Fort Worth. Ensure that expanding startups see the city as hospitable to their continuing growth.

*Broader promotion of the arts: Expand the connection between the arts community and tech entrepreneurs as well as established businesses.

*Establish a “Futures Forum” at the City: Create a formal working group, led by Mayor Betsy Price, that addresses city issues from a “futures perspective.” Implicit in this initiative is the recognition that major public investments, from transportation to water to energy, can be a significant stimulus for economic development.

An innovation district is a geographic area where leading-edge anchor institutions and companies cluster and connect with start-ups, business incubators, and accelerators. These regions are physically compact, transit-accessible, technically-wired and offer mixed-use housing, office, and retail.

The Brookings Institution says that an innovation ecosystem comes together when the right physical assets, economic assets, and networking assets converge in a geographic location, generally 200 to 1000 acres. By facilitating partnerships among medical providers, educational institutions, and life sciences firms, a medical innovation district can foster major investment, entrepreneurship, accelerate the growth of innovative companies, and fuel citywide growth.

Innovation districts provide a strong foundation for the creation and expansion of firms and jobs by helping companies, entrepreneurs, universities, researchers, and investors – across sectors and disciplines – co-invent and co-produce new discoveries for the market.

City officials said practitioners from leading edge innovation districts in other cities offer the following five steps for growth:

*Build a collaborative leadership network.

*Set a vision for growth that leverages the area’s strengths.

*Pursue talent and technology.

*Promote inclusive growth.

*Enhance access to capital.

Fort Worth officials took tours of the Oklahoma City Innovation District and Cortex Innovation Community in St. Louis. They also enlisted the help of the University of Texas at Arlington Institute of Urban Studies, which was contracted for district analysis. Schaefer Advertising was contracted by Near Southside Inc. for messaging in collaboration with UTA – IUS Research.

“We’re the strongest medical area from this side of the Metroplex clear into New Mexico, and even up into Oklahoma, people come this way for medical care,” Mayor Betsy Price said, offering praise for the project.

In stressing the advantages of Near Southside, officials noted:

*An eclectic blend of the medical, industrial and creative economies, calling it one of the most interesting they’ve seen in the United States. It is all situated within a community that is seeing the growth of purposefully driven mixed-use development.

*On one level, the Near Southside is home to Tarrant County’s major hospitals distributed across the area and dozens of independent medical clinics.

*It also contains an interesting mix of older and newer manufacturing companies, often in distinctive, historic buildings.

*And then there is the creative sector – advertising companies like, film and video companies, musical production companies, art “maker spaces“, and a slew of artists and musicians.

*All of these assets are situated within an easy bike ride or walk to Magnolia Avenue, whose restaurants and amenities rival many main streets in big cities around the country.

Officials called the district a “poster child” for the new cross-sector entrepreneurialism emerging in cities, with medical anchors and a local incubator collocated with creativity and innovation of a different sort, particularly around arts, culture, manufacturing, and culinary startups.

“Fort Worth has the DFW Metro area’s single largest concentration of medical jobs in the Near Southside, a growing and vibrant urban district,” Assistant Director of Economic Development Brenda Hicks-Sorensen said. “The Near Southside is a tax increment financing district which has already leveraged over $100 million in private development since its inception.

“The concentrated employment, proximity to medical research, including the new TCU-UNTHSC School of Medicine, and connections to dynamic neighborhoods and amenities constitute many of the ingredients necessary to establish a formal medical innovation district that can fuel citywide growth.”

Hicks-Sorensen also noted the City of Fort Worth approved a number of new incentive opportunities in January to further support research and development, technology, and innovation.

“All of the above efforts are geared toward supporting our vision, ‘To compete successfully on the national and internal stage for creative, high-growth businesses and the talented individuals who fuel them,'” she said.

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