Will Dallas-Fort Worth's rapid growth turn it into the next Los Angeles?

The downtown Los Angeles skyline in 1990
The downtown Los Angeles skyline in 1990

Like it or not, Dallas-Fort Worth is growing at a pace that strongly resembles what Los Angeles experienced in the 1970s and 1980s.

JLL, a global real estate investment firm with a strong presence in North Texas, reached that conclusion after studying population trends going back about five decades.

The trend signals a boon for construction industries, who likely will stay busy building homes, businesses, roads and other infrastructure to meet demand. But it also may present an additional concern for those who are already worried about growing traffic congestion and rising housing costs in the Metroplex.

JLL's research began after a recent, off-the-cuff comment by a speaker at a gathering of Dallas-area business leaders.

"In a recent regional chamber lunch, the question came up as to what other markets historically saw the kind of population growth we are now seeing. The off-the-cuff answer was — maybe LA in the 1980s," Walter Bialas, JLL vice president and director of research, wrote in his report. "Turns out, that was correct — but it is a little more complicated."

DFW LA growth chart
Comparing Dallas-Fort Worth population growth to that of Los Angeles JLL Research

Bialas and others at JLL DFW Research created a pair of charts to illustrate his findings. They show that the metro areas added the same annual population from 1995 to 2003, but since then, DFW has grown significantly more than LA. Before that, from 1970 to 1990, Los Angeles had much larger population gains.

"The groundwork for this was laid in the 1960s and through the 1970s as people and companies migrated to LA and California, as a whole, to take advantage of its rapidly expanding business climate and tech’s emergence in the 1980s," Bialas wrote. "This is not to say that DFW wasn’t growing — it just means that LA was adding 100,000+ more people annually compared to DFW at the time."

Walsh aerial
Walsh Ranch development west of Fort Worth, late 2017. Paul Moseley

Bialas based his findings on figures from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S. Census and JLL Research.

Big numbers

The Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington metropolitan statistical area was the fastest-growing metro area in the U.S. last year, with a combined population of 7.4 million residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

By comparison, Los Angeles County is the largest county in the U.S. with 10.2 million residents, and neighboring Riverside County has another 2.4 million people.

Despite concerns about the impact of such rapid growth, Bialas believes overall the trend is positive for North Texas. The economy will continue to benefit from all the construction and additional retail activity, he said, and there is time to address concerns about issues such as traffic before the Metroplex becomes as gridlocked as LA.

Gordon Dickson: 817-390-7796; @gdickson
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