Just halfway into a strategic planning process that’s taking a deep look at how Fort Worth’s economic development programs are working, city officials have already learned of one challenge ahead of them — having an ample and educated workforce for the future.
“We’ve always felt that we have a strong workforce,” said Robert Sturns, Fort Worth’s economic development director. “I continue to hear, particularly from companies that have relocated here, that there’s some softness in that area. The whole talent acquisition and retention is really a bigger piece of the puzzle than we realized.”
That could be just the tip of the iceberg.
In January, the city hired Austin-based consulting TIP Strategies to develop a strategic economic development plan that will help the city learn what has worked and what hasn’t in attracting and retaining companies to Fort Worth, and where in the city those efforts should be focused. The city wants to know what’s happening across the country with corporate retention and recruitment, and industries the city should be trying to attract.
City officials want to know how Fort Worth is viewed from outside the region and state, as it works to become one of America’s most livable cities and compete for business at the regional, national and international levels. They also don’t want job growth to slow here. And they want more corporate relocations.
“We didn’t want this to be some nice planning exercise. We want to have true implementable strategies that we can start going after day one.
Robert Sturns, Fort Worth’s economic development director
“The one thing we really tasked them with ... we didn’t want this to be some nice planning exercise,” Sturns said. “We want to have true implementable strategies that we can start going after day one.”
John Karras, a senior consultant with TIP Strategies, said Fort Worth’s goals are bold and ambitious.
“When you compare yourself, your city to other cities, whether it’s here or in other parts of the U.S., it helps to get an understanding of where do you have unique strengths that need to be further built on or where do you have things where you don’t stack up as well as other cities,” Karras said.
You need to be candid to the point where you’re telling us you’ve got some shortcomings here.
Dennis Shingleton, Fort Worth’s mayor pro tem
Mayor Pro Tem Dennis Shingleton said, “You need to be candid to the point where you’re telling us you’ve got some shortcomings here.”
Since the first of the year, TIP Strategies, which is being paid $350,000, has met with hundreds of business and industry representatives, community leaders and is currently conducting a community survey, to develop that plan. Sturns and his staff have sat in on all those sessions.
And this is why: According to the Census Bureau, in 2015-2016, Dallas-Fort Worth ranked as the fastest-growing metro area by population, in part because people are moving here for jobs. Fort Worth is an attractive spot to businesses because it has nearly 71,000 acres of vacant land suitable for development, far more than Dallas, which has just under 30,000 acres.
There is a sense that Fort Worth’s story is not being told as broadly as it could be, and that site selectors are only focusing on the east side of the Metroplex, Sturns said.
Fort Worth made it to many companies’ short lists, but then was not selected. This plan should show why that is happening, Sturns said.
“We have to be honest about what those challenges are,” Sturns said. “I imagine we’ll get some very truthful discussion, which is good. We need to know and understand the gaps.”
Ultimately, we see the outcomes of this, if we’re successful, five years from now this community will see a greater level of investment.
John Karras, TIP Strategies consultant
Karras said the report will address the city’s growth capacity and where those opportunities lie.
“Ultimately, we see the outcomes of this, if we’re successful, five years from now this community will see a greater level of investment,” Karras said.
Fort Worth residents are encouraged to fill out a survey that can be found on the city’s website. It will be available until May 26.
The consultants should complete their work by August and strategies are expected to be in place at the start of fiscal 2018 on Oct. 1.