With Fort Worth being a “cool” place to be now, Mayor Betsy Price said, the next step is developing the city to attract and retain life science companies and scientists.
One way of doing that is by creating an environment where people want to live.
“You’ve got to make the city a place where families can afford to live, a place where their children can go to school, and a place where they enjoy being,” Price said.
This was among the topics Price, along with Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams, spoke about concerning the North Texas life science ecosystem at the second iC3 Life Science Summit, held by BionorthTX on Wednesday at UT Arlington College Park Center.
The summit provided a venue for life science companies, executives, investors, academia and industry support organizations the opportunity to network, collaborate, educate and partner.
The mayors took the stage for the afternoon keynote address Q&A panel “Building a scalable and sustainable life science ecosystem in North Texas” to speak about present and future plans to grow the life science industry in their respective cities.
“About 15 percent of what we do is in the life science arena, and that is a big portion of your economy,” Price said. “That is not unintentional.”
Although the focus has created about 38,000 jobs in Fort Worth’s hospital district, Price said, one of the biggest factors affecting growth is education, both mayors agreed.
For the life sciences to succeed, public education needs to be looked at, Price said.
“The nation as a whole has slipped on education,” Price said.
Fort Worth was unable to attract two businesses that would have created about 100 jobs each. When she sat down and asked why they went to Austin, they responded, bluntly with “the education pipeline.”
It was not the workforce nor the opportunities for higher education; it was public education, specifically early childhood, Price said.
Only 30 percent of third-graders in Fort Worth read at grade level, according student and demographic data. It also showed that 50 percent of 4-year-olds who attend preschool in Fort Worth are not kindergarten-ready.
If Fort Worth doesn’t focus on public, private and higher education, great companies won’t come, Price said.
The city and the school district have started an initiative to address the literacy issues, and the goal is to have all third-graders reading at level by 2025.
“We are on the front of this curve, not on the heels of it, which is where we need to be,” Price said.
Other topics brought up during the panel affecting growth were housing options, a lack of mass transit in Arlington, fostering a pro-business climate, entertainment options, a lack of lab space and equipment, and people leaving Fort Worth and going to other “cooler” cities such as Dallas or Austin.
The difference between other regions and North Texas, specifically Tarrant County, is the leaders are together working with universities, the business community and the chambers of commerce, Williams said.
“We realize the importance of us leveraging each other’s resources so that we can use each one of the tools that we have,” Williams said.
It is one of the reasons this region is the fastest-growing in the nation, Price.
When asked if there is a city with a scalable and sustainable life science ecosystem that Fort Worth and Arlington could use as a model, Price didn’t hesitate by saying Fort Worth.
Rafael Sears: 817-390-7657, @searsrafael