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This fast-growing city will offer relocating businesses an incentive to preserve open land

August 1,2022

See full Fast Company article by Kristin Toussaint here.

Fort Worth, Texas, is the third-fastest-growing city in the country. But as it adds people, development is reshaping a city that boasts lots of open space.

As of 2020, Fort Worth was losing 50 acres of natural land a week to development. In an effort to continue to grow while also keeping open space, the city is working on a new plan: When a company sets up shop in Fort Worth, it will have the option of helping preserve the city’s natural ecosystems, even as it adds to development.

The city has been looking at this issue around open space for a few years, says Mayor Mattie Parker, including working on an Open Space Conservation Program in partnership with the Trust for Public Land, getting voters to approve a bond package that sets aside money for purchasing and preserving open space, and purchasing acres of ecological regions to build more parks.

“But then our economic development team and other departments came together on, What if you could also make this a win for our economic development focus in the city of Fort Worth?” she says. “When you’re losing 50 acres a week in natural, open-space prairie land, we had to do something.”

What the city is now proposing is a business incentive in which companies that move to or expand within Fort Worth—by building new corporate campuses or setting up additional manufacturing facilities, for example—can also preserve an amount of open space equal to the company’s building footprint, and even help decide where that preserved land will be allocated.

“The idea is that companies can dedicate a portion of the funds that they receive from city incentives—which are pretty traditional across the country—toward the open-space program, and help us preserve these high-priority ecosystem areas across the city,” Parker says. Those spaces could end up as parks, with equipment and infrastructure, or as more open spaces with hiking trails.

Cities often offer company incentives to lure businesses to their area, most commonly in the form of tax breaks. Fort Worth officials hope that the ability to preserve open land—across key ecosystems like the prairie grasslands, Cross Timbers woodlands, or the land around the Trinity River—appeals to businesses that want to make a positive impact on the planet, and also hope to become integrated into the local community.

“It may seem contradictory, right, because when you’re talking to developers or corporate expansion or relocation companies, they’re focused on building,” Parker says. But at the same time, she adds, if you give them the incentive opportunity to preserve land outside of their own property, it’s a good will gesture that may help them be welcomed into the area.

In a Trust for Public Land public engagement survey, 96% of Fort Worth residents said the conservation of natural areas was “very important.” Parker adds, “You could theoretically have [a company] preserve five new areas across the city, have their name attached to that preservation, and automatically have a bit of goodwill in our city for a company that otherwise would have been unknown or untrusted.”

The business incentive isn’t yet in place, but is expected to get city council approval this fall. Officials have had preliminary conversations about the offer with companies that, Parker says, “are encouraged by the opportunity.” She expects to see concrete examples of companies preserving local open spaces next year.

It’s not a requirement that all companies coming to the area participate, and likely every individual incentive deal will differ, but it’s important, Parker notes, that businesses “know this is an opportunity, and a priority for this administration to make sure we’re preserving our landscape for the next generation.”