The March 24 Economic Summit looked at the future implications of today’s economy for non-profits. The annual event was sponsored by United Way of Tarrant County and the North Texas Community Foundation and held at the Amon Carter Center at Lena Pope.
Speakers at the Economic Summit were David Berzina, (pictured here), Executive Vice President of Economic Development for the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce; Ann Beeson, Executive Director, Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin; and Loh-Sze Leung, owner of Leung Consulting in Dallas. Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley emceed.
The future looks bright, according to David Berzina, with no recession in sight and 10,500 acres of new development coming online in Fort Worth and Tarrant County in the next few years. Fort Worth adds a new resident every 25 minutes, he said. The Dallas/Fort Worth area is the nation’s number one market for commercial investment, he said, and more than 5,000 new jobs were created in Fort Worth in 2015 alone. There are 348,000 students enrolled in Dallas/Fort Worth colleges and universities, he noted, and $3.5 billion worth of regional roadway improvements were made in 2014-2015.
Challenges do exist in the quest to offer everyone the chance to compete and succeed in life, said Ann Beeson. The Center for Public Policy Priorities gives Tarrant County a C- on its Texas Education Scorecard based on a variety of factors. One in 10 Tarrant County students repeats 9th grade. About half of Texas high school graduates don’t enroll in any Texas post-secondary education. Bright spots, she said, are that 70% of eligible children are enrolled in public Pre-K in Tarrant County, and the percentage of Tarrant County students entering post-secondary education deemed “college-ready” is 73%, slightly better than the state average. The biggest job growth, both locally and nationally, is in the area of low-wage jobs. Twenty-eight percent of Fort Worth/Arlington jobs don’t pay enough for families to meet the cost of basic needs in this area, she said, even if employers help pay for health care. She recommended helping families by updating the Texas school finance system, expanding Pre-K, reducing the cost of college, and strengthening the connection between education and the workforce.
The final Summit speaker, Loh-Sze Leung, is principal author of the report “Strengthening Dallas-Fort Worth: Building a Middle-Skill Pipeline to Sustain Economic Growth and Expand Opportunity” issued by JPMorgan Chase & Company. She said tremendous opportunity to strengthen the middle class and improve lives lies in “middle-skill jobs,” which require more than a high school education but not a college degree. Middle-skill jobs make up almost 30% of employment in the Dallas/Fort Worth region. She said such jobs are important in at least five key sectors here: healthcare, information technology, finance, aerospace and electronics/manufacturing. Yet 22% of Dallas/Fort Worth adults—950,000 people—don’t have a high school credential, which is needed to pursue advanced training. The result is that 1 in 5 people in Fort Worth lives in poverty. Her recommendations included helping people finish high school and increasing awareness of middle-skill job opportunities through “career exploration” in high school, internships and on-the-job training. She encouraged employers to be leaders in helping people get entry-level jobs and move up. “At the end of the day, this is an economic development issue as well as an issue of providing people with economic opportunity,” she said.