Fort Worth

Identity crisis: Is Fort Worth becoming a Dallas suburb?

When Toyota scoured the Metroplex to move its North America headquarters from California, Fort Worth wasn’t even on the list.

And, in a recent study, when people were asked where Fort Worth falls on the list of the nation’s largest 50 cities? They responded 45th. Fort Worth is the 16th largest city and in a couple years could move up to the No. 12 spot.

Mayor Betsy Price was recently in London meeting with mayors in England and others from the U.S. She said some of those mayors weren’t sure where Fort Worth is and that was bothersome to her.

Is Fort Worth having an identity crisis? A $350,000 study suggests it is. And it’s getting in the way of attracting businesses to Fort Worth.

“The city’s potential for greater recognition is huge,” said John Karras, a senior consultant with Austin-based TIP Strategies. “There’s a lot of room to make up here.”

Council members heard about the 500-page economic development strategic plan with more than 200 goals during a two-hour presentation on Tuesday. At the end of the meeting, Councilman Brian Byrd suggested the city take a look at possibly changing its longhorn logo called Molly.

“I like Molly. I like cowboys and culture,” Byrd said. But, he said: “How much does it contribute to irrelevance? I want to see us grow.”

The plan is one the most comprehensive looks at the city’s economic development policies. It included extensive conversations about the city’s image and what it should look like.

The plan offers numerous ways Fort Worth can improve its image, regionally and globally. And if Fort Worth’s image doesn’t improve?

One of the “ugliest” of possibilities is that the city will become “one of the fastest growing suburbs of Dallas,” Karras said.

Several factors are playing into that. Among them, too many residents leave Fort Worth to work in surrounding cities. And, Fort Worth’s residential tax base is larger than its commercial base. More jobs are needed here, and high-wage paying positions, he said.

“If we don’t start changing that metric soon, this commercial versus residential, we’re going to end up being a bedroom community of Dallas,” said Robert Sturns, Fort Worth’s economic development director. “The first time the consultants said that, everyone in the room sucked in and thought that was a harsh thing to say. The trends point that way.”

Sturns called the plan a “down and dirty” and “unvarnished look” at what Fort Worth is doing right and wrong when it comes to economic development.

The plan is ambitious. It focuses on growing the central business district with more office and residential space, but also with corporate headquarters and jobs. In the next five years, Fort Worth should attempt to add 30 companies.

And by that time, Fort Worth should have a total of 9,095 housing units within one mile of downtown and 24,541 units within a two-mile radius, the plan says.

Sturns said changes to the city’s incentive policies will be ready in early 2018.

“We have to be much more strategic about what we’re doing. We can’t grow our economy by incentivizing warehouse distribution jobs that are paying $12 an hour,” Sturns said. “That’s just not going to cut it for us. Where we do need to focus on is corporate headquarters, professional services and international business.”

Brandom Gengelbach, executive director of economic development with the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, said Fort Worth is a popular place and it will grow, but the city needs to become aggressive in its marketing.

The Chamber, which is also undergoing a revision of its policies, is wanting to increase its budget to $8 million from $5 million, which means an increase in marketing dollars, Gengelbach said.

“When we have the Amazons of the world knocking on our door we’re ready to go to service them better than anyone else, while at the same time we’re also over in China or in Europe working on some opportunities for Fort Worth as well.” Gengelbach said. “We are missing opportunities to be strategic.”

Fort Worth is included in a regional pitch to lure Amazon’s second headquarters to North Texas.

Sturns said at the end of five years, residents will see a change in Fort Worth.

“The worst thing I think can happen five years from now is that Fort Worth looks exactly the same as it does today,” Sturns said.

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