It’s a great time to live and work in Fort Worth! Our community has experienced robust economic growth in recent years, and 2013 was no exception. Last year, the city advanced 12 deals, representing approximately 4.7 million square feet, 6,800 jobs – creating an annual payroll surpassing $340 million – and $437 million in capital investment. Much of this growth is taking place at AllianceTexas, which experienced one of its most successful years and is setting the pace for the rest of the nation. Among our more notable economic development wins in 2013 was the selection of Fort Worth by Google and Motorola Mobility as the site of their U.S. Moto X assembly plant at AllianceTexas. As the first plant in the United States to assemble smartphones, this reshoring project has brought national and international attention to our community. Motorola Mobility spent an estimated $25 million to retrofit the 470,000-square-foot plant at AllianceTexas and hired more than 2,500 North Texans to assemble the phones. Our region also attracted two of the largest retailers in the world: Amazon.com and Walmart. Amazon.com selected a site in Haslet, just outside of Fort Worth, as one of three new e-commerce fulfillment sites in Texas, and is completing construction of its 1.1 million-square-foot distribution center. Walmart acquired 21.8 acres in AllianceTexas to construct a 788,000-square-foot e-commerce distribution center. In addition to attracting these major technology and retail companies, Fort Worth expanded its roster of companies from industries with a longstanding footprint in our region. The Carolina Beverage Group LLC, a contract bottler for numerous national and international alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages, selected Fort Worth as the site for its newest manufacturing and distribution center, investing $60 million. And, NGC Renewables, a manufacturer of wind turbine equipment, is establishing its North American headquarters in Fort Worth and investing up to $96 million for real estate, site improvements and manufacturing equipment. Since an educated and highly skilled future workforce is one of our most valuable assets, the Fort Worth Chamber continued its partnership with the Fort Worth Independent School District in 2013. The Chamber’s leadership played an important role in funding and disseminating materials that helped the district secure voter approval of its $490 million bond package. None of our economic development successes would be possible without the generous support of Fort Worth’s business community. In 2013, the Fort Worth Chamber launched its FORWARD Fort Worth economic development fundraising campaign to ensure our city’s long-term economic vitality. FORWARD Fort Worth is an initiative to wholly fund the Chamber’s strategic economic development efforts, which include business recruitment and retention, international business development, research and technology initiatives, and workforce development programs. Launched in May 2013, FORWARD Fort Worth is well on its way to reaching its $1.5 million goal. Another factor in our economic success is the strong partnership between the Chamber, the city of Fort Worth staff, the mayor and the City Council members. Equally as important is the partnership between the Chamber, the Tarrant County economic development staff, the Tarrant County judge, and members of the Commissioners Court. While the success we achieved in 2013 will be hard to beat, we have some exciting new tools in place and are pursuing new initiatives that will make Fort Worth more visible than ever. One of our most versatile new tools for attracting relocation and expansion opportunities is a four-minute video spotlighting Fort Worth’s business, people, culture and lifestyle amenities. Combined with the Chamber’s new website, we have greatly enhanced our ability to present Fort Worth in the best light to a broader audience. You may view the website and the video at http://fortworthecodev.com. The Fort Worth economic development video made its debut at the International Economic Development Council’s (IEDC) 2013 Annual Conference in Philadelphia. Fort Worth will host the conference in 2014, casting a domestic and international spotlight on our community and reinforcing our position as one of the nation’s top business destinations. Fort Worth will also enjoy the international spotlight when ESPN returns to Sundance Square for live broadcasts during the NCAA Final Four in April. Sundance Square previously hosted ESPN in 2011 during Super Bowl XLV. While taking center stage in front of these critical audiences offers exciting opportunities for Fort Worth, we must continue our active economic development initiatives in order to build the momentum we have created in recent years. In 2014, regional and statewide partnerships will play a critical role in our recruitment activities. One of the Fort Worth Chamber’s strongest partnerships is with the Dallas Regional Chamber. While on the surface it may appear that we are fierce competitors, both Chambers understand the mutual benefits of maintaining a strong economic base for the entire North Texas region. The partnership also continues between the city of Fort Worth, the city of Dallas and the Fort Worth Chamber in our recent designation as an EB-5 Regional Center ¬– an area designated by the federal government as eligible to receive immigrant investor capital. Civitas Capital Group is guiding us in this new endeavor. Civitas has worked with the city of Dallas for the past seven years to manage its EB-5 Regional Center program. The Chamber’s partnership with Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport is also stronger than ever. In 2014, the Chamber will join airport representatives in their efforts to secure and maintain new and existing national and international direct routes, which are tremendous assets for us in the international economic development arena. Our work with site selection consultants has paid off in recent years, and we will continue to work with these individuals in 2014 to recruit new business opportunities from states where there is a high cost of doing business, such as Illinois and California. In addition to maintaining these valuable partnerships, the Fort Worth Chamber will establish important new ties during leadership transitions within our city and state governments. We will dearly miss City Manager Tom Higgins, who has served Fort Worth with incredible distinction for several decades. But we will look forward to welcoming a new city manager and to working with this individual on critical economic development initiatives. Likewise, as Texas selects a new governor in 2014, the Chamber will actively work with the governor and his or her staff in pursuing new business for the state and leveraging incentive tools, such as the Texas Enterprise Fund and the Emerging Technology Fund, which have directly impacted our success. Building Fort Worth’s international presence is another important initiative for 2014. Motorola’s selection of Fort Worth for its smartphone assembly demonstrates that we are a viable community for reshoring projects, and the Chamber is actively pursuing similar business opportunities. We will continue our work with Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price to establish new international partnerships that strengthen local businesses, create new trade opportunities and increase the presence of international companies in Fort Worth. Fort Worth will also continue its aggressive efforts to retain local businesses in our community. Each year, representatives from Fort Worth’s economic development team visit with 100 businesses representing all sizes and industries. Through these visits, the Chamber has received valuable insight into the needs, concerns and strengths of our business community and has identified ways to resolve these issues and tout these attributes. Fort Worth has a wealth of assets available to support business growth, and our active efforts to promote these attributes are paying off for the entire community. By continuing to leverage opportunities that place Fort Worth in the international spotlight, deploying new tools and enhancing our local, regional and statewide partnerships, we will ensure Fort Worth’s long-term economic vitality.
David Berzina, CEcD, is the executive vice president of economic development for the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce and a member of the International Economic Development Council board of directors.