Fort Worth’s deal flow slow this year, but picking up, chamber exec says

By Scott Nishimura

Fort Worth’s economic development deal flow, slow this year, should pick up before the end of the year, the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce’s top business development executive said Wednesday.

This year, the chamber has worked on 52 projects, done 22 site visits, and completed four deals so far, David Berzina, the chamber’s executive vice president of economic development said. Those include expansions by BAE, American Airlines, and UPS, and the entry of Victory Packaging into the city.

The deal number should “probably double by the end of the year,” Berzina said during the chamber’s annual economic development update at TCU.

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Coming out of the recession, “I think we had a lot of pent-up decisions, and they executed them last year,” Berzina said in an interview after the meeting.

Between 2009 and 2013, the chamber helped complete 50 projects that included $1.7 billion in capital investment, 15,633 jobs, and 12.26 million square feet of space, he said in his presentation.

It appears Fort Worth has lost one $150 million Chinese deal involving 2,000 jobs to Mexico, he said.

“They can pay wages with benefits for $3,” Berzina said in the interview. That compares to $12-$15 here, he said.

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“That’s a big number, and they couldn’t overlook it,” he said, declining to identify the company until that deal is confirmed, but saying it’s a “new-age energy company.”

Still, Fort Worth has plenty to look forward to, Berzina said.

“Fort Worth companies are looking to expand through internal growth,” he said.

Several major developments are nearing launch or underway, he noted. Those include Walsh Ranch, Edwards Ranch, Waterside, Trinity Lakes, Trinity River Vision, West 7th, Pate Ranch and Fraser Ranch west of the Chisholm Trail Parkway.

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The Chisholm Trail, open from near downtown to Cleburne, is expected to open up development in that corridor.

“In the same year, I may lose a deal to Mexico and to Cleburne,” he joked. “That’s what transportation does for you.”

The city is still in contention for a potential $8.2 million French deal that could invove 150 jobs and 50,000-100,000 square feet of space, Berzina said.

Berzina estimated that, at 3 percent population growth annually, Fort Worth – now at about 800,000 people and the 17th largest U.S. city, behind Charlotte – will hit 1 million people in 2021. At percent growth, the city will hit 1 million about 2025.

That mark will represent measures of pride, perception and prestige, Berzina said.

“It will create challenges and opportunities,” he said.

Water, roads, and public transportation continue to be critical economic development issues facing the region, Berzina said.

He highlighted the importance of TexRail, the commuter rail line. The segment between downtown and Dallas/Fort Worth Airport is now under construction and scheduled to be complete by 2018. A planned segment between downtown and far southwest Fort Worth has been hung up for years.

“This is going to be important for moving people around,” Berzina said, urging the audience at TCU’s Brown-Lupton University Union to lobby local leaders on behalf of TexRail.

Fort Worth is sending an economic delegation to China in two weeks, and learning more about high-speed rail will be on the agenda, Berzina said.

A group wants to build high-speed rail between Houston and Dallas, and Tarrant County leaders are pressing to bring the western terminus into downtown Fort Worth.