Architectural firm feels at home in new Fort Worth office

Airport and freeway access have attracted many companies to Fort Worth, but another quality also brought Harrison French & Associates Ltd. to town.

“It reminds us of our Smithville office,” said Chris Horton, executive vice president and chief financial officer for the Arkansas-based architectural and engineering firm.

Horton was referring to the 3,500-square-foot space in the Chase Bank Building at 420 Throckmorton St., whose cast stone trim and abundant sunlight resemble the firm’s headquarters in Bentonville.

Much has happened since a handful of employees moved into the space in April. Staff has risen to 13 as the growing team adjusts to Fort Worth and celebrates its decision to set up shop in what it considers a hotbed of commercial development.

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“We grew up as a retail firm. Our focus has always been retail,” said Horton, whose firm started as an architectural enterprise in 1990. Fueled by collaborative projects with fellow Arkansas company Wal-Mart, HFA added engineering to its services in 2004 and later racked up more than 8,000 permitted projects.

With Wal-Mart as a client, the firm continued its retail focus by completing more than 3,000 large-format store projects as well as more than 1,100 convenience store projects in the past five years.

With its Fort Worth team in place, HFA wants to continue what it calls its 2025 growth plan. Part of that strategy is expanding its presence elsewhere in the country.

“We have so much work going on in the Southwest, and we already have clients based there,” said Horton. He pointed to Fort Worth’s proximity to Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, as well as a skilled local workforce and commercial and retail growth.

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“We researched Austin and Houston, but really liked North Texas and narrowed things down to Dallas, Las Colinas, Arlington and Fort Worth,” Horton said.

After visiting offices in those locations, Fort Worth came out on top due to Sundance Square and the Chase Bank building’s flexibility.

“We like Sundance Square and the ability to expand,” said Horton, referring to expansion plans that could see the firm lease more space in the 12-story building.

Craig Jones of Partners National Corporate Real-Estate Services helped the firm find the space, whose lease will be up for renewal in three years.

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“We could see 50 people there within a few years,” said Larry Lott, HFS’ president and chief operating officer.

HFS employs 215 people in its Bentonville, Boston and Fort Worth offices. The latter office embraces an open-studio approach, where engineers, architects and other employees interact freely. The approach mirrors what the firm considers its greatest strength: integration and communication.

“Our guys work in teams. They sit together. It’s truly a collaborative environment,” said Horton. He said associates from all three offices often collaborate on the same project.

Each office is an extension of the others. “Some engineering from Fort Worth might serve the Boston office, for example. There are shared resources,” he said.

As for landing clients, the firm continues to build its local base but has not landed its first local customer. Its Fort Worth team is led by Craig Hale, who spearheads business development, but the firm has no specific growth objectives.

“We don’t place an emphasis on numbers,” said Horton, drawing quick agreement from Lott.

“We never said we must have X number by next year,” said Lott, allowing that the firm’s 2025 plan does stipulate certain goals that but those do not include a specific head count by a certain date.

“We want to constantly bring in new talent and new opportunities for our staff. That’s ongoing,” Horton said.