Successes, further recommendations documented in 18-month follow-up to Economic Development Strategic Plan

The City of Fort Worth released its first Economic Development Strategic Plan — which focused on establishing the city’s competitive edge, becoming a hub for creative business and ensuring the vitality of its community — in December 2017.

Eighteen months later, the steps that the city has taken since then are starting to bear fruit. TIP Strategies — the consulting firm that worked with the city on the strategic plan — recently released an update on the city’s progress when it comes to several of the plan’s tangible, measurable outcomes, while also noting specific areas for improvement.

This update comes on the heels of multiple interviews with city staff and stakeholders, as well as new population data that reflects the city’s growth. Fort Worth gained more new residents than any other large city in the Dallas-Fort Worth area from 2017-2018, and with that growth comes discussions about what kind of sustainable development will allow Fort Worth to stay competitive for years to come.

The outcomes of the Economic Development Strategic Plan will ultimately help Fort Worth compete successfully on both the national and international stage for creative, high-growth businesses, as well as the talented individuals who fuel them.

High-wage growth

The first outcome of the strategic plan is the growth of high-wage jobs in Fort Worth. Fort Worth’s competitive advantage has historically been in the manufacturing industry, as well as retail and service sector employment. However, these industries don’t usually offer high-wage jobs that can benefit the city through home sales and increased spending power for residents.

TIP Strategies’ recent update shows that Fort Worth is making steady progress in high-wage job growth, exceeding its goal with a 3.6% increase in the number of high-wage jobs created or retained from 2017-2018. However, the growth in average wages of those same jobs is slightly lower than desired.

Also, Dallas continues to lead Fort Worth by wide margins in professional service and healthcare jobs — both key indicators of economic success. Recent data indicates that Fort Worth is beginning to catch up, as the city added more than 1,300 new professional service jobs and 1,300 healthcare jobs between 2017-2018 — and healthcare jobs in particular should continue to grow as Near Southside’s Medical Innovation District becomes more established.

Sustainable tax base

The second outcome of the strategic plan is to create a more sustainable tax base that is driven less by the values of residential property, and more on commercial and industrial investment.

Zoning changes downtown and revised incentive policies that strategically target particular industries for tax abatements and Chapter 380 grants are just a few of the steps that Fort Worth has taken to help diversify its tax base.

Additionally, increases in retail sale growth, hotel occupancy, the amount of new office space and industrial space, and the growth of the commercial tax base from 2017-2018 have put Fort Worth on track to meet its annual growth targets.
The predominant concern for this outcome is Fort Worth’s low number of multi-family permits, which lag behind the city’s single-family permits in both quantity and value compared to other regional competitors.

Capitalizing on high-growth businesses

The third outcome of the strategic plan is to help Fort Worth’s economy better capitalize on high-growth businesses, and the creative individuals who fuel them.

TIP Strategies reports that Fort Worth’s value proposition has never been stronger, as the city’s population growth, high-profile projects and strong relationships with local partners in the startup/tech, medical and higher education industries make it an attractive location for entrepreneurs and larger businesses alike.

Of particular note is the quantity and value of venture capital and angel investment deals, which increased 29% between 2017-2018.

Commitment to quality of place

The final outcome of the strategic plan is to commit to a shared quality of place throughout the many neighborhoods and communities that make up Fort Worth. Specifically, a focus on walkability in both neighborhoods and business districts, and improved connectivity between the city’s various districts, should be a priority for Fort Worth.

While Fort Worth is making progress in this area, there’s still much work to be done. The strategic plan calls for accelerating Downtown Fort Worth’s growth into one of the state’s premier mixed-use business districts, and TIP Strategies directly ties the success of downtown to the strategic plan’s overall success throughout the rest of the city.

Just as important is the alignment of neighborhood assets to support and benefit from the city’s overall growth, particularly through the development of pedestrian-focused urban villages throughout the city.

Additional recommendations

In addition to providing an overview of the city’s progress on the strategic plan, TIP Strategies also made some general recommendations on how the plan can better achieve its goals.

  • Develop a comprehensive marketing strategy. While there is much regional excitement around the plan and its goals, there has not been significant change in Fort Worth’s overall perception within the DFW Metroplex — much less outside of the Metroplex — when it comes to attracting the attention of site selectors and national corporations. To that end, a more aggressive media strategy and a comprehensive marketing effort is crucial to the plan’s success, and TIP Strategies recommends that this become the primary focus for the next year in order to capitalize on local enthusiasm and stakeholder buy-in.
  • Additional resources are needed. New investments from both the City of Fort Worth and the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce are required to fulfill the ultimate goals of the plan, including increasing staff to support further marketing, research, urban development and business retention and expansion efforts.
  • Stakeholders should coordinate their roles and alignment with the plan’s objectives. The City of Fort Worth, the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, and the area’s other economic development organizations are encouraged to better coordinate their respective roles and responsibilities to ensure that everyone’s resources are being used efficiently and ensure that the plan’s priorities remain consistently aligned.
  • Maintain a balance. While Fort Worth is making progress on corporate relocations, these efforts should be balanced with regional opportunities focused around the area’s chosen target industries: aerospace manufacturing and design, transportation innovation, life sciences, geotechnical engineering, international business, professional services and financial services.
  • Preserve Fort Worth’s unique identity. There should be a conscious effort to maintain a sense of Fort Worth’s character throughout all development and redevelopment projects. Furthermore, concerns about the displacement of existing residents or businesses due to revitalization efforts should be addressed before the project begins through marketing and internal due-diligence.

The complete summary of the Economic Development Strategic Plan update is available online.

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