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‘So much momentum in Fort Worth.’ A&M breaks ground with big news of business partners

June 21,2023

See full Fort Worth Star-Telegram article by Jenny Rudolph here.

At least three major companies will have a significant presence in downtown Fort Worth as part of Texas A&M-Fort Worth, and more could be on the way.

The Texas A&M University System broke ground Wednesday on the first building of its downtown campus. Leaders also announced new corporate partnerships at the groundbreaking ceremony with defense and aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, the defense and aviation company Elbit Systems of America, and the global eye care company Alcon.

A $150 million, eight-story building will be the first of three planned for the project. The Law and Education Building will house Texas A&M’s law school and courses in engineering, health care, nursing and other subjects offered by Texas A&M University, Texas A&M Health and Tarleton State University.

The campus will be along Commerce Street across from the Fort Worth Water Gardens, near the convention center. Funding for the $320 million project is coming from the university, the city, Tarrant County and private contributors.

Experts have said the downtown project could be the most significant economic development in the city in 100 years. Others say it could mark a major tipping point for downtown as more young adults look to live, study, train and work in the city.

Bobby Ahdieh, dean of Texas A&M School of Law, has said from the start that the project is an opportunity for Texas A&M and Fort Worth leaders to do something much bigger and more consequential than they realized was in front of them.

“None of us sitting here can possibly imagine when and how much and in what form (the campus) will produce,” Ahdieh told the crowd. “But we know it will change all of us and all of the communities of which we are a part. That’s what we celebrate today.”

John Sharp, Texas A&M chancellor, said the reason the campus is moving forward so quickly is because of strong collaboration with the city and county.

“This boom could be very long lasting because of what we’re embarking on here today,” Sharp said during the event.

Lockheed Martin was the first company to sign an agreement to partner with the university, Sharp announced. Sharp told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram details of the partnership are still being established.

For the second building, A&M will work with its partners, including Lockheed Martin, and ask them what they want in a lab space, what kind of equipment they’ll need and how they can tailor the curriculum properly, Sharp said.

Bridget Lauderdale, vice president and general manager of the F-35 Lightning II Program at Lockheed Martin, said the company has a long history of collaboration with Texas A&M.

“As one of the leading technical workforce employers in the Metroplex, having two locations here, Lockheed Martin sees the value of the Texas A&M University System expanding into the Fort Worth area,” Lauderdale said at the event.

Lauderdale said the partnership could include research programs, development of the talent pipeline and Lockheed Martin staff on campus for research and development.

“This represents a commitment to leverage the strengths of the best of both our communities to the benefit of our local community, to the benefit of the state of Texas, to our nation and to our nation’s allies,” Lauderdale said.

John Goff, chairman of the Fort Worth-Tarrant County Innovation Partnership, has played a lead role in engaging with companies that could partner with the Fort Worth campus. Goff, who owns Crescent Real Estate LLC, was a driving force behind the project after former Mayor Betsy Price approached him for ways to help the city recover from the pandemic.

Goff said Elbit Systems of America, a defense and aerospace company, will have a presence on A&M’s campus and is interested in hiring graduates. The company has U.S. corporate headquarters in Fort Worth and is a subsidiary of Israel-based Elbit Systems, which creates naval, land and airborne products for homeland security, defense and commercial applications.

Details of a partnership between Elbit Systems of America and Texas A&M are still being discussed, Goff said.

“They’re already collaborating,” Goff told the Star-Telegram. “It will be defined in a way where Elbit will take a physical space in the (second phase building), where they can collaborate on technology. I couldn’t tell you exactly what technology. But they will also be looking for A&M to produce graduates with the skill set they need. So it’ll be, call it, workforce training as well as technology collaboration.”

Alcon, the largest eye care device company in the world, is also deeply engaged in exploring an A&M connection on the Fort Worth campus, Goff said. The Swiss-American company, which has its U.S. headquarters in Fort Worth, expects to generate more than $9 billion in net sales this year.

Goff said he’s gotten a lot of engagement with several companies looking to work with graduates in the fields A&M produces.

“We’ve probably had, and I’m not exaggerating, I’ve bet we’ve had over 100 meetings in my offices,” Goff told the Star-Telegram. “It’s kind of been control central for all these meetings between A&M and companies, and I bet there have been easily 100 meetings with various components of A&M here in downtown, and it’s every week.”

Goff said project leaders are interested in corporate partnerships with all types of industries, with technology being a focus given the need for it in Fort Worth.

“When I talked to a lot of companies here locally, the common theme I got was we can’t find enough workers with software engineering or certain forms of technology, and we desperately need it.”

Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker told the Star-Telegram that engineering, defense, aviation and manufacturing could be some key sectors.

“There is so much momentum in Fort Worth, Texas, and a huge part of that catalyst of course is higher education in the presence of Texas A&M University here on Hell’s Half Acre in downtown Fort Worth,” Parker said during the event, referring to the neighborhood’s infamous reputation in the late 1800s.

Bill Mahomes, chairman of Texas A&M’s board of regents, called the campus a win for everyone.

“Generations will pass through Texas A&M-Fort Worth,” Mahomes said. “Who knows how that will transform your city, this county, the state or the nation. We can only imagine what they will build on the foundation we lay today. But what we do know is this campus will bring a vast multitude of opportunities that will make a difference in this entire region.”

Tarrant County Judge Tim O’Hare said the project will expand the local talent pool and is an extraordinary moment for growth and advancement.

“Education is the cornerstone of prosperity,” O’Hare said. “The establishment of this new Law and Education Building underscores our commitment to making Tarrant County the best educated workforce in America and our pursuit of making Tarrant County a place where opportunity will be available to our children’s children.”

Location Mentioned: Texas A&M Fort Worth