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Fort Worth: Modernization of western culture

October 14,2022

See full Dallas Business Journal article here.

The Dallas Business Journal, in partnership with PNC, recently hosted a discussion with Fort Worth community leaders to explore the rapid rise of one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. The modernization of western culture has led Fort Worth into a thriving metropolis with a major economic impact on the region and the Lone Star State.

Participants in the discussion were Dale Klose, PNC Bank; Brandom Gengelbach, Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce; John Goff, Crescent Real Estate; Anette Landeros, Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; Mattie Parker, Mayor of Fort Worth; Jonathan Morris, Hotel Dryce; Andy Taft, Downtown Fort Worth Inc. The discussion was moderated by Ollie Chandhok, Dallas Buysiness Journal.

Fort Worth is the 13th largest city in America and continues to grow quickly. How has the city helped forge its own identity separate from the region and across all of Texas?

MATTIE: We’re still emerging. When you’re a city like Fort Worth, which has been the fastest growing for over 10 years but hovered around 500,000 people for over three decades. It’s natural for other people across the United States not to know who we are. The nice thing about our community is once you get here, you understand fully what kind of city we are. Fort Worth is doing a nice job of keeping a foot in the past and a foot in the future because I think our identity and the quality of life we offer in Fort Worth, you can’t find in any other state in the country. People move from coastal cities and the Midwest, and quality of life is the priority here. Think about some of the slogans we’ve used: Modern West; Where the West Begins; Cowboys and Culture. All those things are true. You could have an identity that’s each of those things. We’re also the city that wants to progress and look at what’s next. Of course, economic development, world-class education and a city that focuses on the future economy are where we’re headed.

DALE: Mayor Parker makes great points here. Being new to Ft. Worth, I approach this question with a unique perspective and perhaps an example of what she references. After PNC’s acquisition of BBVA USA in 2021, PNC became a national bank and the 4th largest bank across Texas. I was asked to relocate as Territory Executive for PNC’s Southwest and Mountain Region which includes Texas. My wife and I chose to relocate from Kansas City to Texas and more specifically Fort Worth. I knew at the time Ft. Worth was a bit of a hidden gem. While it’s the 13th largest and second fastest growing city in the nation, it’s still affordable and known for its ease of accessibility, strong manufacturing, innovative aerospace & aviation, energy, transportation, medical research, and a top-notch cultural district. All of this paired with warm people and a western feel - it’s the perfect blend of large city amenities with a small-town atmosphere. So, not surprisingly Ft. Worth lives up to being one of the best places to live in America.

Is that unique identity a selling point for those looking to move to this state?

MATTIE: I think it is. Being a part of North Texas’s third-largest metro area doesn’t hurt. DFW Airport drives opportunity. Visit Fort Worth deserves huge credit, and visitor tourism became a huge focus for this city over a decade ago. With visitors comes another opportunity for business and to drive our identity. They’ve all been a part of this story in their way for years. They bring a different flavor and focus on what they’re trying to do, whether in hospitality or a business, into Fort Worth. We’re also trying to ensure we set the table, so all are welcome. We want new and fresh ideas at the same time because we want to pay homage to our history as well.

BRANDOM: We’ve already seen growth before COVID, but in the post-COVID world, there’s so much that has to do with being able to live where you want and do your job anywhere. The culture of Fort Worth and the energy of what we have—easygoing, laid back, not pretentious, hard-working—resonates with many people. The authenticity that we have resonates with a lot of people.

JONATHAN: I’ve had several people just over the last couple of months at my hotel either moving here soon, or just moving to Fort Worth. The thing that stands out to me is that now, all of a sudden, more people can live wherever they want to live and work wherever they want to work. We’re well-positioned to be where people land because their lifestyle is changing and they’re designing the life they want.

Fort Worth added 179,000 residents over the past decade, which represents a nearly 25% increase in its population. Where is most of this growth coming from? Out of state, in-state moves, or a mix of both? Is there consistency in where the people and the companies come from?

JONATHAN: Places where it costs a lot more to live.

BRANDOM: DFW’s top net in-migration markets are Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. Southern California resonates a lot more with Fort Worth specifically. Areas with state income tax, high regulation, and very dense environments, which are not as popular post-COVID, have been a lot of the interest that we’ve seen on the corporate side.

JOHN: If you think about the scope of DFW airport, there are 65 million people plus that go in and out of that airport every year. And here we are, a million people population, located next to an airport of that size. It’s the second busiest in the world. As we’ve been doing this development in the cultural district, what I have found in engaging with all the museums and the other constituents in that area is the number of worldwide visitors to the city is stunning. It’s a lot more than I ever thought it would be. Fort Worth is a big surprise to people. The word authentic is perhaps the best way to describe us. Fort Worth comes across as very authentic and I think it’s also a big surprise for out-of-town visitors that come here and see the level of culture and the history that is here that frankly is beyond any other city of this size in the US. It’s an amazing place and we’re on the lip of the cup. I think a renaissance is occurring here because of all the people moving here. That’s going to be profound in defining the city going forward.

Fort Worth, and North Texas in general, is enjoying an innovation renaissance, too, with tech companies from Silicon Valley coming to the area. How can the city manage this influx of relocations, and how can we promote local talent for these companies?

MATTIE: I think we have to focus on talent. Across the country, big cities are successful. We will focus on talent first and business second because we’re seeing this huge migration across the country. They’re flocking to places where they want to live, work and play. Businesses are figuring out their employees want to be able to work remotely. How do you attract businesses to want to be in Fort Worth? You have to start with the talent already here in Fort Worth. Workforce training is a huge piece of that. Secondarily, how do you create an environment where people feel they can succeed? We struggle with really lifting that entrepreneurial spirit.

What are your respective companies doing to help business, community, and economic growth in the area that others can emulate? What can business leaders do to continue making Fort Worth a draw for Texans and Americans?

DALE: As business leaders, a common thread we share is moving all of Fort Worth forward and striving for economic opportunity for all. At PNC Bank, we play a unique role in this by providing capital, financial products & services, advice, and supporting our local communities. More specifically, we operate as a Main Street Bank with our regional presidents living and working in each of our 55 geographic markets across the country. Our regional presidents are focused on delivering the extensive resources of a leading national bank, but as active members of the community are also focused on delivering holistic capabilities that serve the diverse needs of the communities and constituencies PNC serves in Ft. Worth. We’re very committed to helping area businesses grow and supporting our local community through philanthropy, community development, and economic empowerment of our low and moderate income communities. As one example, like Mayor Parker’s focus on early childhood education, you will see PNC’s commitment to our signature philanthropic cause, Grow Up Great, which is dedicated to helping underserved children ages birth to five enter kindergarten prepared for success in school and life. We also support organizations and initiatives that are uniquely Fort Worth – we are the presenting sponsor of the MAIN ST. Fort Worth Arts Festival, Broadway at the Bass, and the Ben Hogan Award.

ANETTE: It’s not just opening an office here. That doesn’t work. I try to ensure you’re not just becoming a Chamber member. We’re helping you guide your membership forward for success. We encourage companies to identify someone who will be their company’s spokesperson. Each company should have one person immediately develop those relationships because it does matter. You can’t just have a Fort Worth address. We also work a lot with those interested in starting new businesses. They’re already here. They have an idea. Immediately, we connect them to other entrepreneurs and folks who can help them with resources. Most of them start to move forward when they find access to capital. We get a lot of referrals from banks that flag entrepreneurs who aren’t quite ready for a bank loan but need help getting there. We can then use our network in that sense. The whole community is there to uplift the entrepreneurial spirit.

Because the city is attracting a lot of tech startups and earlier-stage companies, how purposeful is this and do you expect this trend to continue? Is Fort Worth building a strong ecosystem for entrepreneurs?

JONATHAN: There’s an opportunity within the collaboration. There’s this spirit of collaboration over competition. As a business owner, I sometimes have a very competitive nature. But, one thing that I’ve found is bringing other people along with me on the journey and creating the way I think about building business and work right now are not only the manifestation of my dreams or my ideas but, at the same time, simultaneously is helping other people build up their dreams, whether they need to be an entrepreneur themselves or to launch my deal or whatever it is. Fort Worth is a really good space to live in. Compared to many cities, this sense of we’re in this thing together really bodes well. People recognize that authenticity; they recognize whether or not other people want to help you win or if they are trying to get theirs and get out. That community is the brand of Fort Worth. That’s what allows us to stand out.

JOHN: One initiative we executed was the ability to partner with a public company called Techstars that does this successfully all over the nation and in a lot of major cities. I agreed to put up capital alongside equity capital through my family office and alongside the University of North Texas Health Science Center. We matched that capital with money the city and county put up, and we did that in less than nine months. We have a director named and it’s up and running. We’re accepting applications. This happened in no time. Techstars said we’ve never seen one go from idea to fruition this quickly. That’s a wonderful example of the county and the city working together to provide a lot of funding over a multi-year period. This is just a start.

BRANDOM: There is a real passion for helping promote and grow those here in Fort Worth. The city recently announced a couple of initiatives they’re doing. Fort Worth is the first city in the nation to do Bitcoin mining. There’s quite a bit of Bitcoin mining going on in general in Texas because of the low energy rates. That was a partnership with the Texas Blockchain Council. Now there’s an opportunity to see what else can be done in this growing emerging arena, where we could be competitive but has much more of an entrepreneurial focus. The same thing with mobility: Hillwood has the MIZ, the Mobility Innovation Zone. They’re focused on mobility from a commercial standpoint of moving products through zones through autonomous trucking. Again, this is something that the city’s leaning into, looking at what assets were unique that we could grow from an entrepreneur’s perspective. Those types of developments from the entrepreneur’s standpoint stay here and grow into the future.

As with any city, Fort Worth has seen some limited leasing issues, particularly regarding retail and density. What’s the best way to increase retention in not only downtown, but in areas that the city hopes to continue to develop?

ANDY: While our overall ground floor occupancy is still very high in downtown, Covid didn’t do our retail scene any favors. Thankfully, we are seeing improvements in that sector. The major retention issues we’ve experienced are primarily oil and gas related. As Fort Worth continues to diversify its economy, we are experiencing less retention volatility. Recruitment is the other side of that coin. The Chamber is working on a big recruiting platform and initiative. As we exit the pandemic we’ve had some exciting announcements. The prospect pipeline is filling up again with tenants more inclined to be in a dense downtown environment. We are also seeing density in hospitality and residential developments and Texas A&M’s expansion will be a big factor in the near future. The Panther Island project will redefine Fort Worth’s urban core significantly. The 42 acres owned by Fort Worth Housing Solutions across I-35 from downtown represent a remarkable redevelopment opportunity. All of these things, including the medical district’s ascendancy, the Stockyard’s new energy, the near Southside’s renaissance and the Cultural District’s momentum reinforce the appeal of downtown as a live-work-play environment. There is about a billion and a half dollars’ worth of development in the downtown core pipeline and that will attract even more investment. The next 10 years downtown are going to be spectacular.

Fort Worth is enjoying a luxury renaissance, too, with new luxe towers going up for the first time in decades, a sure sign of a booming downtown. How is the city managing the mix of luxury with affordability?

ANDY: If a developer requests municipal incentives, an automatic affordability component is built-in. We’ve been working with the City and Fort Worth Housing solutions and over the last 10 years, 15% of all the housing units delivered in downtown have been affordable, workforce units. Our goal was 10%. The market has been bullish on the high end, but our collective efforts have been successful in delivering on our promise of more affordability. As we look forward, I think we’ll see developers delivering more small units. While the rental rate per square foot may be high, the out of pocket expense will be relatively low. This is another way to deliver more affordability to those seeking one bedroom units.

Fort Worth has a lot of available land to expand due to its intelligent plotting of city boundaries in the past, particularly to the north. What opportunities exist that position the city to continue to enjoy this advantage?

DALE: Fort Worth is not land locked which is extremely attractive to incoming businesses. So, there’s room to maneuver. It creates significant growth potential for commerce, opportunities for real estate development, and larger tracts of land for all types of housing. By land area, Fort Worth ranks in the top 20 largest cities in the country. From a business and lending perspective, we’re seeing strong growth continue. It’s not always going to be about just building more homes. While residential needs to keep up or even precede growth, the opportunities to diversify our tax base and plan for the long term future of the city and success of its residents is critical. We are fortunate to have strong leadership that is focused on planning ahead as it relates physical infrastructure, transportation, education, and alignment. All necessary as we continue to grow to ensure that Fort Worth remains a wonderful city to live and work.

ANETTE: I want to recognize there are still communities and neighborhoods that are underinvested and they’re struggling. Our city is good at acknowledging and taking responsibility for areas of improvement. The mayor mentioned a lot of investment going into certain neighborhoods. The city recently set aside some money in Main Street America’s national program to do a Fort Worth program for neighborhoods to hopefully become the next Near Southside on South Main. That has been fantastic, but we want that for more neighborhoods and to be authentic to their cultural upbringing and neighborhood flavor. They’re looking to utilize community organizations already there and give them the tools they need to create their organizations to advocate on their behalf. I’m hopeful that the experience we’re talking about is true for everyone and that they feel like they have the resources they need to shape their community as well.

JONATHAN: How Fort Worth navigates the way growth looks like in those communities is an opportunity that we have to paint the picture for the nation of what great growth can look like in cities where everyone wins. If we can navigate this growth in a way that surprises people, that’s where we’d want to be.

ANETTE: We genuinely want that for all the constituents. All our chambers work together, and all our organizations work together. We have a mentality that they need to succeed for me to succeed, and for them to succeed, I need to succeed here. Everyone has that same mentality in our programs.