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Texas A&M-Fort Worth could mean more jobs, a stronger workforce and lower taxes

January 27,2023

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

Business leaders and politicians have no shortage of superlatives when describing the future Texas A&M-Fort Worth campus on the south end of downtown.

Developer John Goff calls the project “the most significant thing for the city in the last 100 years.” Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker predicts it is “an opportunity that will pay dividends for generations.”

To a casual observer, looking at the site’s current parking lots and plain concrete law school, those assessments might seem like exaggerations.

But with construction starting this summer on the first of three planned buildings, experts say the new campus will indeed be transformative, well beyond just educating college students.

What was once Hell’s Half Acre, wild west red-light district in the late 1800s, will become a shiny new jewel in downtown’s crown and an economic engine for the entire city — attracting major high-tech industries, creating new and higher-paying jobs, and elevating Fort Worth’s ability to compete on a national level.

The project also has the potential to help ease the property tax burden on Tarrant County homeowners and small businesses, if Texas A&M-Fort Worth attracts major corporate headquarters.

Goff is confident that will happen.

“A&M is going to bring, through their expertise and sheer inertia, a lot of corporate relocations,” said Goff, who owns Crescent Real Estate LLC.

Goff was a driving force behind the campus project, after former Mayor Betsy Price approached him for ways to help Fort Worth recover from the pandemic. He said he is already working with two companies that want to move their entire businesses to downtown adjacent to the future campus.

“The university creates software engineers that (the company) needs, and they have a tough time accessing that talent,” Goff said. “This is going to happen. There’s going to be many more of those.”

The project — estimated at $255 million — involves three new buildings along Commerce Street across from the Water Gardens. The complex will have an education extension building and a research and innovation center, where students will learn alongside private industry partners.

Construction is slated to begin this summer on the Law & Education Building with a 2025 target for completion. No dates are set for construction on the other two buildings.

Robert Sturns, the Fort Worth economic development director, said companies want to be in a place where they can hire skilled employees, build on existing strengths and leverage with local partners.

“When you’re talking about corporate relocations, those decision-makers want their company to have a presence in locations where there’s a high concentration of top talent,” Sturns said.

Price, the former mayor, also has heard multiple businesses express interest in the area surrounding the campus.

The potential for new companies means more jobs for local residents, not just A&M graduates.

“Those businesses will provide them jobs, too,” Price said. “It isn’t just students that new companies are going to be hiring — it will be our local community. A lot of them will be hired.”

Hillwood President Mike Berry discussed the large scope of the project during a recent forum of the Real Estate Council of Greater Fort Worth.

“I’ve had the chance to really look inside at the power of the infrastructure that Texas A&M brings,” Berry said. “You just look across all their skill sets in the schools and their expertise, and it’s really like four corporate relocations to downtown in one.”

Fort Worth is the largest city in the U.S. without a Tier 1 research university within its city limits.

When talking to companies considering relocation to Fort Worth, Parker said, the predominant question they ask is whether the city has the workforce to fill the jobs tomorrow.

Not only will new companies bring jobs, but more corporate relocations may help ease the residential tax burden.

Bobby Ahdieh, the dean of Texas A&M University School of Law, described the correlation between building young talent, attracting companies and potentially shifting the county’s tax base in the long term.

“If you attract companies, then young professionals come and want to be here as well,” Ahdieh said. “All of which then increases the commercial tax base of the city, which is an important need and priority.”

This means that more than half of the tax burden falls on property owners, including homeowners, small businesses and apartment complex owners, because Fort Worth doesn’t have as many large corporations and industries as other major cities.

When a new company comes to Fort Worth, it may purchase property including office space or equipment.

Put simply, because a commercial property is taxable, it can gradually shift the tax burden off residential property owners.

“There will be other businesses that will want to relocate and be situated next to Texas A&M and the convention center district,” Parker said, “which absolutely lends itself to helping our tax base and really expanding on the commercial side.”

Retired SMU economist Bud Weinstein said attracting more corporations that purchase business property and pay taxes on those assets can lower the burden on residential taxpayers with all other factors held constant.

“As a rule, the higher the percentage of the tax base on the commercial and industrial side, the better that is for homeowners,” Weinsten said.

The addition of Texas A&M’s campus may play a role in improving the education of Tarrant County overall.

According to the university, 1 in 4 Tarrant County households has an annual income lower than $30,000, and almost half of the 1.2 million adults in Tarrant County over the age of 25 do not have a college degree.

Parker said less than one-third of Fort Worth students attend a two- or four- year credential within six years of high school graduation.

Two economic hurdles Fort Worth faces when competing with other Texas cities are workforce training and attracting top talent. Texas A&M-Fort Worth is an example of “good work on the ground to change those data points,” Parker said.

A&M’s Ahdieh said for individuals who don’t have the resources or time to pursue a full bachelor’s or master’s degree, the campus offers workforce training programs and certificate programs that can take as little as one year.

“Certificates can add to someone’s professional credentials, their ability to succeed and grow in their industry,” Ahdieh said. “The law school has been very focused on this community — what are the programs and offerings that will bring visibility and value to the community.”

Texas A&M’s growth in Fort Worth could mean greater demand for apartments and increased home values, said Arben Skivjani, president of the Dallas/Fort Worth Area Association for Business Economics.

“When you have such a great university moving into the area, you have a lot of students coming in and pretty soon you’re going to see a lot of student housing development taking place around the area,” Skivjani said.

More student housing could bring more retail stores, with more jobs and more sales tax revenue in the long term, Skivjani said.

“Whenever you have a new university or school, it helps home values go up because it brings stability to the area,” Skivjani said.

Local leaders expect even bigger things from the new campus, beyond the three buildings and grass quad.

“I like to joke that Aggies like to do it bigger and better,” said Parker. “If you think about the investment they’re making with these three buildings, that absolutely is room for tremendous growth, and I think they’re just getting started.”

Parker said it remains to be seen what could grow beyond the initial three-building campus and will depend on what the system needs and if there are more opportunities to relocate other programs or agency work to Fort Worth.

“I have not run across anyone in our city that doesn’t want to roll up their sleeves and find more ways to collaborate and expand,” Parker said.

Goff said the project is going to be much bigger than what people imagine.

“Every time I meet with them, there are more ideas coming in,” said Goff, who helps run the Fort Worth-Tarrant County Innovation Partnership.

Goff said the partnership will be focused on getting companies and philanthropies engaged in the school to make sure the project stays on track. Goff said if the project faces any roadblocks, they will bust through them.

“It’s been amazing the way the city can collect itself and gather around a great opportunity like this,” Goff said. “This is going to be a game changer. That inertia will affect all of downtown. It’s going to force it to happen.”

Locations Mentioned: Texas A&M Fort Worth, Texas A&M University School of Law