After all the hoopla and hyperbole, the Super Bowl is just a football game on a grander scale.
Similarly, this region’s recent effort to win Amazon’s second headquarters was the same highly competitive economic development game that’s played out every day, albeit on a massive scale: a $5 billion project with 50,000 new jobs. That’s the size of a new Galveston or Grapevine.
So, while deeply disappointed by Amazon’s choice last week to split its HQ2 between the New York and Washington, D.C., areas, Brandom Gengelbach exudes confidence that DFW did all it could to win — and, in fact, has long been applying the same aggressive strategies and regional coordination that at least got the metroplex into Amazon’s top 20, a distinction that came with two site visits by company officials.
Again, as the executive vice president of economic development for the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, Gengelbach notes the scale was the main difference between the Amazon bid and past and current efforts, including some 60 projects still in the economic development pipeline.
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In fact, he says it was the first big bid the entire DFW area joined in since the Boeing HQ relocation of the 1990s.
Given that area business, education and political leaders already knew how to play ball, there wasn’t a lot to be learned from the big game that just ended. But what has been learned is huge.
First, Gengelbach says, the process reemphasized how crucial the area’s diverse and plentiful real estate offerings are in recruitment. Officials already knew real estate was among the area’s top three or four economic development assets — along with the world-class airport, the workforce and the state’s business-friendly regulatory and tax structure. But the Amazon exercise provided economic developers with a fresh 35,000-foot perspective.
In addition, DFW’s proposed “Amazon U” tailored educational program appears to have led to a more integrated higher education community.
That the Amazons of the world are demanding bigger pools of educated, motivated workers is not new. But the tactics to fill that pool must be constantly renewed. The chamber this year launched a project, called Fortify, that, among other things, seeks to ramp up “talent” development — in other words, education that matches growing business needs.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings took some heat for saying the region’s educational system might have fallen short of Amazon’s requirements — but we’d be foolish not to look for ways to improve it and mold it to meet expanding and prospective job opportunities. Workforce development begins in homes and schools.
Teamwork is another vital aspect of economic development, and nowhere is it more imperative than here. Whereas many markets are pulled by one lead dog, DFW features 14 communities of 100,000 people or more.
For his part, Gengelbach says the DFW area’s business, real estate, educational and political communities were already pulling together, and were primed for the Amazon opportunity. But it’s hard to fathom that even such a failed bid didn’t make them better — better coordinated and better prepared for the next big game.