Can we really land the new Amazon headquarters?
Lots of affordable land, vast connections at DFW Airport and a history of doling out big tax incentives give Dallas-Fort Worth some advantages. But a lack of regional mass transit and a smaller tech workforce could lead the e-commerce giant to other locations.
Overall, corporate relocation experts say they expect the DFW region to make the list of top contenders as Amazon searches for a site to build a second corporate complex.
“You’re high on the list and you’re hot right now because you’re affordable,” said Susan Wachter, a professor of real estate and finance at the University of Pennsylania’s Wharton School of Business.
While the Metroplex is typically in the game for big corporate relocations, cities like Chicago, Denver and the Washington, D.C./Baltimore area may have more of the amenities Amazon is looking for, experts say.
And don’t discount the cool factor. Amazon is looking for a place where tech workers and millennials want to live, said Columbia Business School professor Rita McGrath.
“When I think of tech in Texas, I think of Austin. I don’t think of DFW,” McGrath said.
Here’s how our region stacks up against the competition, based on the requirements set out on Amazon’s wish list.
Dallas/Fort Worth Airport is the fourth-largest airport in the country based on passenger traffic. Only Chicago, Los Angeles and Atlanta serve more travelers.
“One of the things DFW has going for it is the airport situation,” said James Shein, a professor of strategy at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. In addition to DFW, Dallas Love Field has been upgraded and there are dozens of small airports serving private planes throughout the region.
Shein notes that recent renovations at DFW’s terminals have improved the customer experience and, with its location in the middle of the country, Amazon executives can get to either coast in about three hours.
A 100-acre site
North Texas still has plenty of wide-open spaces. Fort Worth alone has several sites that could accommodate Amazon’s need for 500,000 square feet initially and room for expansion up to 8 million square feet, including undeveloped areas near AllianceTexas.
“You have the key, which is land,” Wachter said, noting that there are flat industrial parks all over the state that fit Amazon’s criteria.
Although Amazon has suggested it would like an urban campus, Wachter said Texas cities should be able to find sites it can creatively repurpose for the online retailer.
“That’s the only way that I see Austin or Fort Worth making a successful bid is by re-envisioning its future,” Wachter said.
Access to mass transit
Although the T has added bus routes and DART has expanded light rail over the past decade, the mass transit system in North Texas is still limited and doesn’t serve all cities. DART already has a line running from Dallas to DFW Airport and a Fort Worth rail line to the airport will open next year.
“Dallas doesn’t have much of a mass transit system,” Shein said. “Given the mass transit systems of so many other cities, like Chicago or D.C., that’s a factor that could complicate things for DFW.”
With Texas Christian University, Southern Methodist University, University of North Texas and University of Texas at Arlington to name a few, North Texas produces a substantial number of graduates with computer science and math degrees, about 800 bachelor’s certificates each year, according to Statebook. But that pales in comparison to Washington, D.C., which has more than 3,700 tech graduates. DFW ranked 16th in the Statebook report.
The area does have the fifth-highest number of tech workers, with 139,740, more than San Francisco, Statebook says. However, CBRE ranked DFW 10th in its Tech Talent Report behind cities like Atlanta, Austin and Raleigh-Durham.
Texas prides itself on being business-friendly and state and local leaders routinely put together incentive packages to lure companies like Facebook or Toyota.
“The first thing that people think about Texas is no income tax and big incentives to give away,” said Calandra Cruickshank, chief executive of StateBook International, a firm that provides data analysis for site selections.
In its most recent budget, the city of Fort Worth had 33 projects with tax incentive deals worth about $15.2 million.
Cost of living
Of the 52 metropolitan areas with more than 1 million people, DFW ranked 18th in terms of its cost of living, according to Statebook. Cities like Austin, St. Louis and Kansas City have better cost-of-living rankings.
Still, while housing prices have jumped in recent years, the median sale price of a single-family home is $255,000, according to the National Association of Realtors. That’s much cheaper than home prices in Portland, Denver, Boston and Seattle.
Culture of creativity
DFW usually isn’t first to mind when it comes to where millennials want to live or where tech workers want to be.
According to Apartments.com’s new report on best metro areas for millennials, DFW ranked 13th, behind Houston and San Antonio. Pittsburgh topped the list.
“If I were Amazon, I would be saying. ‘Where would I go that people say ‘oh cool, I want to be there?” McGrath said, noting that millennials sometimes will turn down a great job offer if it is in a city where they don’t want to live.