Fort Worth turns to private sector to help rescue economy from the coronavirus
Mayor Betsy Price hopes the private sector can restore the city’s economy and position Fort Worth as a national leader when the coronavirus pandemic eventually passes, she said Thursday in announcing a task force aimed at financial recovery.
Details about Fort Worth Now were vague, but Price has tapped two big names from the Metroplex’s business world: Elaine Agather, chairwoman of JP Morgan Chase’s Dallas region and John Goff, the real estate investor, as co-leaders of the task force alongside her.
An advisory committee has not been established, but Price said the group will first assess what Fort Worth companies need to survive as the novel coronavirus recession takes hold and later help market Fort Worth as a home for innovation.
“We believe Fort Worth is uniquely positioned to recruit, attract and grow new business in this post-COVID landscape,” Price said. “We are poised to be a leader in mobility, innovation, pharmaceuticals, medical innovation, and many, many other industries that will be crucial to the recovery of our economy.”
Price said the committee will be small enough to not bog itself down, but will also represent all of the city’s industries including logistics, aviation, medical research, finance as well as small business. Without much detail, Price said the group will also be diverse in race and experience.
Goff has pledged $100,000 to the task force with expectations other donors will match that. The hope, Goff said, is that the task force will be entirely privately funded.
It will have at least one full-time staff member and budget for travel, research and marketing.
Price said eliminating the bureaucracy of City Hall would help Fort Worth Now be more nimble in assessing and helping businesses. Pressed by reporters about what safeguards can be expected from a group of businesses, the mayor said the private sector would not be willing to invest in the process as Goff has without a high level of accountability.
Some of the task force’s work will be done privately but other aspects will be open to the public, she said. The group will not be required to check in with the city council.
Committee members will likely be identified by the end of next week with the task force getting started in June. Specific goals or deadlines have not been established.
Price said the first phase of the year-long process will focus on connecting small businesses with funding and expertise needed to help overcome the recession. The city has started small business loan and grant programs, so the group said it is unlikely Fort Worth Now will directly fund small business capital.
The local economy has taken a beating, with many small businesses saying in March they would likely not survive a months-long downturn.
Robert Sturns, the city’s economic development director, didn’t have an exact figure for Fort Worth’s unemployment rate Thursday, but said in March the rate was just under 5% with the expectation it would more than double through April. About 32.2 million Americans filed for unemployment since mid-March, or about 1 in 5, according to the U.S. Labor Department.
The second phase, positioning Fort Worth as a leader in the post-coronavirus economy, may help recoup some of those lost jobs, Price said, and will be geared toward marketing the city has a place for businesses to relocate.
Goff speculated that pharmaceutical companies will be eager to reestablish production in America as a matter of supply chain and national security. A bi-partisan group of lawmakers, including Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Elizabeth Warren, have questioned the reliance on Chinese production of American drugs and medical supplies.
Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, the city was attempting to position itself as a medical research hub. Goff said that initiative, combined with logistics operations like Alliance Airport, can be harnessed in the age of COVID-19.
“We have companies in the Metroplex that can be very instrumental in that process and be part of it,” he said. “We want to try to connect those dots and make sure that Fort Worth can potentially benefit.”