Fort Worth continues to be a strong draw for new residents and businesses as it is named one of the country's fastest-growing cities according to 2013 data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Routinely mentioned as one of the country's best locations to live, Fort Worth boasts a business friendly climate, a growing economy, numerous post-secondary educational institutions, and increasing employment opportunities in emerging industries. An educated city, more than 32 percent of individuals 25 years and older have completed a college education.
To get a better understanding of the economic outlook, including employment opportunities and the housing situation for prospective students in the area, we interviewed Robert Sturns, the Economic & Business Development Manager for the City of Fort Worth. In that role, he is responsible for the corporate business recruitment and retention initiatives of the city. These functions are carried out in partnership with the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, Tarrant County and other entities. He also oversees small business development initiatives, including oversight of the Fort Worth Business Assistance Center (BAC). At the BAC, he coordinates the development of innovative small business programs that supply start-up business counseling, business plan development, access to capital, along with incubation and co-working space.
What's the current economic outlook in Fort Worth?
The Fort Worth-Arlington Metropolitan Division (MD) boasts a strong labor force of over one million that continues to grow. As impacts from the recession continue to decrease, the Fort Worth-Arlington MD has maintained positive annual employment growth since the summer of 2010. The unemployment rate reached a low of 4.0 percent at the end of 2014, compared to the 4.1 percent unemployment rate of Texas, and the 5.4 percent unemployment rate of the United States.
There are over 37,000 registered businesses in the Fort Worth-Arlington MD. Almost 50 percent of these entities are small to mid-size firms that employ anywhere from 1 to 249 individuals which highlights the continued importance of small business development. Large business firms with over 1,000 employees make up 28.6 percent of the area's workforce.
Manufacturing and professional business services remain an important part of the Fort Worth economy. Over the last year, manufacturing remained stable with over 93,000 jobs in the area, while growth in professional business services topped 8 percent. The City's industry clusters remain diverse with trade, transportation, and utilities making up the largest percentage of the Fort Worth-Arlington MD industry composition at 24 percent. Government, education & health services, professional & business services, leisure & hospitality are also large sectors, comprising 13 percent, 13 percent, 12 percent and 11 percent of the workforce, respectively.
Tourism is also an important contributor to the local economy with over 5.5 million visitors per year contributing $900 million annually to the city's economy. Coordinated efforts by Sundance Square and Downtown Fort Worth, Inc. have resulted in new entertainment, housing, and retail facilities throughout downtown Fort Worth.
The Alliance Texas development in north Fort Worth continued its growth with an estimated economic impact to the North Texas region of $4.75 billion and nearly 3,000 jobs created during the year, which includes a growing workforce in the medical district at Alliance Town Center. The 18,000-acre development, started in 1989 with the opening of the industrial airport, has had a total economic impact of $55.3 billion over the life of the development.
What are the emerging/growing industries in Fort Worth?
We are continually looking at opportunities to bring new investment into the area, but we also have a focus on emerging technologies. We are in the process of looking at a full review of our overall incentives policies to determine how we can strengthen the opportunity to attract more targeted industries. The City's collaboration on the Idea Works Fort Worth business incubator is an effort to continue to seed and grow companies that would be classified as emerging businesses. Tech Fort Worth has long been established as our initiative on growing technology related companies through access to venture capitalists and support through some of our university partners.
The city has a Comprehensive Plan that guides development and growth. What are some of the major focal points of that plan?
The Comprehensive Plan is written to support the City's strategic mission of making Fort Worth the nation's safest major city, improving mobility and air quality, creating and maintaining a clean, attractive city, strengthening the economic base, developing the future workforce, creating quality job opportunities and promoting orderly and sustainable development. Some of the elements of the plan include; departmental business plans, budget priorities, capital improvement program, annexation program, development standards and zoning and subdivision cases.
What are the top industries and employers in the region?
Major employers in Fort Worth include AMR/American Airlines (1), Lockheed Martin, JPS Health Network, Cook Children's Healthcare System, Tarrant County, NAS Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base, Fort Worth Independent School District, Texas Health Harris Methodist Fort Worth Hospital, Alcon Laboratories, City of Fort Worth, Bell Helicopter, and Genco ATC. As mentioned, manufacturing and distribution remains an important part of the Fort Worth economy. The list of companies in distribution and manufacturing operations include Acme Brick, Alcon Labs, Allied Electronics, ATC Logistics & Electronics, Haggar Clothing, Federal Express, J.C. Penney's, Mother Parker's Tea and Coffee, Coca-Cola Enterprises, Ben E. Keith Co., Miller Coors LLC, Williamson-Dickie, Pratt Industries USA, Inc., NGC Renewables, LLC, Carolina Beverage Group, LLC, GE Manufacturing Solutions, and The Dannon Company.
What's the current housing outlook in the area?
As of 2013, the number of total housing units in Fort Worth was estimated at 295,157 of which 90.2 percent were occupied and the remaining 9.8 percent vacant. In terms of housing tenure, the survey estimated that out of the 266,098 occupied housing units, 57.3 percent were owner-occupied and 42.7 percent were renter-occupied.
Overall, the housing situation is very positive with a large number of residential units planned for high growth areas like north and southwest Fort Worth. The challenge will be how the national economy will hold up going forward and if this will result in a softening of the market. However, the cost of living is a key driver for some of the corporate relocations being made to the area for companies on the east and west coast.
Are salaries keeping up with cost-of-living?
Salaries are keeping pace with cost of living as a whole, but there are some areas of improvement as some distribution/warehouse jobs are typically below the County average. From an economic development standpoint, we are focused on bringing higher wage paying job opportunities to the City.
Why is Fort Worth an attractive location for students to attend college?
I think Fort Worth offers a strong mix of all the elements that a prospective college student would be looking for in a community. Pro-business community with multiple opportunities in a variety of industries after graduation, a number of cultural amenities from Bass Hall to the museums in the Cultural District and strong mix of recreational activities from concerts in Panther Island Pavilion or the Southside District to enjoying the Trinity Trails system along the riverfront.
Why would you recommend an individual consider moving to Fort Worth?
For many of the same reasons mentioned above. Fort Worth truly is a community that has it all. Strong business, cultural amenities, major league sports and a strong family environment are major selling points of Fort Worth, along with access to anywhere in the world from DFW Airport .Fort Worth is consistently ranked among the top places in the nation to live, work, and play. With a growing workforce, top educational facilities, low cost of doing business, high quality of life, and prime location and climate, the City is an attractive choice for companies looking to relocate or expand their operations.
Robert Sturns is a Domestic & International Business Recruitment Manager for the City of Fort Worth. He has earned his MBA degree in Management from the Texas Christian University.
- US Census Bureau, American Fact Finder, http://factfinder.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/community_facts.xhtml
- City of Fort Worth, Fort Worth is Fastest Growing Large City, http://fortworthtexas.gov/citynews/default.aspx?id=137164
- Interview with Robert Sturns, 4/24/2015