DALLAS — With orange construction cones marking expansions on most major thoroughfares and new houses popping up like daisies, it’s no secret that Dallas-Fort Worth is one of the fastest growing metros in the United States.But a new report shows the population isn’t the only thing booming, with the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington economy ranking 6th in the nation at $440.1 billion in 2013. DFW even outranked most countries in the world, trumped in gross product estimates by only 17 of the world’s 196 national economies. “We have a real concentrated effort in working together to promote the region as a whole,” said Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price about the area mayors and chambers of commerce. “We have some competition between us, but the goal is always the region as a whole.” The U.S. Metro Economies report, presented at the U.S. Conference of Mayors by IHS Global Insight, a Massachusetts-based information company, showed the 363 metropolitan areas in the United States are “the beating heart” of the U.S. economy. The metros studied were home to 84 percent of the nation’s population, 87 percent of total real income, 90 percent of new housing starts and 90 percent of real gross domestic product. The report also showed metros will continue to be the center of growth for years to come, supplying 92 percent of real gross product growth through 2020. “What is clear from this growth forecast, and we are much more confident in it than previous forecasts in the last few years, is that the economic prosperity of the U.S. economy is directly linked with the metro area economic performance,” said James Diffley, senior director of regional economies for IHS Global Insight. Fort Worth to maintain character in face of growth Price also said the Dallas-Fort Worth airport is one of the primary “economic engines” of the Metroplex, especially when it comes to attracting international travelers and business deals. With the growth, however, comes challenges, including transportation, infrastructure, education and water supply, Price said. “Water is an issue nearly everywhere, and we understand this is a precious resource we need to be careful about,” Price said. The Fort Worth City Council approved permanent two-day-a-week landscape watering restrictions in April, citing the need to conserve water. The Texas Department of Transportation has also started work on an expansion to Interstate 35 West north of downtown, trying to address the bottlenecked traffic between downtown Fort Worth and Alliance. But Price said Fort Worth’s greatest challenge amidst all the growth will be maintaining a “small town-feel,” which she said is part of its charm. “I’m very proud of DFW. It continues to amaze me, the growth we are having and the success we are having. It is a great climate to be in. But the biggest challenge for us as is a city is maintain how Fort Worth is a small town, with an open, warm feeling that people like, even as we are growing,” she said. Price said the recent $175 million redevelopment project proposed for the Stockyards by the Hickman Family and Majestic Realtor is a prime example of needing to maintain Fort Worth’s character as a “cowboy town,” even in the face of massive redevelopment. The Hickman and Majestic project, which would include hotels, residences and livestock auctions, struck a sensitive cord with Stockyards businesses and families, with over a hundred coming to the City Council to urge council members to ensure the development will adhere to the historic nature of the Stockyards before approving $26 million in incentives. Though the council approved the incentives, they first initiated zoning changes in the area to restrict development and committed to creating a form-based code for the Stockyards area to help insure the project meets historic guidelines. The housing market Though national data presented at the U.S. Conference of Mayors by Stephen Gallagher, vice president of government affairs for the National Association of Homebuilders, showed that home building is still lagging, DFW is also booming in the real estate market. On a national level, Gallagher said the country is about 2 million units behind, just from aging of existing properties, natural disasters, fires, and other needs for new homes. Some concerns include the price of materials, the cost and availability of labor, concern about employment and the availability of credit after the recession. “We have fallen significantly behind,” Gallagher said, though he said the building of new homes is slowing ticking upwards. He said the consumer is back, with “pent up demand.” Despite the national lag, The U.S. Metro Economies report showed that the real estate and housing markets in 2013 were a “boon” for DFW, Austin, Tampa and Phoenix. The report found that the the fastest growers among the 100 largest metros were primarily in the south and and west regions, where “the real estate market recovery has fueled economic growth.” By the numbersBy 2015, the study predicts the DFW economy will grow to $464.7 billion and by 2016 it should rise to $491.4 billion. By the end of 2014, economic growth for the nation will reach 2.3 percent, and inflation is projected to be just under 2 percent and unemployment is projected to dip towards 6 percent, the study shows. The unemployment rate for DFW is expected to be 5.3 percent in 2014 and 4.9 percent by 2015. DFW saw a 3.7 percent increase in real gross metro product growth, ranking No. 8 for growth in the top 100 metros. Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos ranked first, with a growth of 4.6 percent. The Austin area is also expected to be the fastest growing economy in the country, followed by Raleigh and Fayetteville, because of the information and professional business sectors.
Caty Hirst, 817-390-7984 Twitter: @catyhirst