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Summit Examines Economic Outlook, Winning Development Approaches

A capacity audience attended United Way’s February 23 Economic Summit, which included “A Conversation with Robert Kaplan,” President and CEO of the Dallas Federal Reserve; and remarks on economic development in Arlington by Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams II. The Summit was co-sponsored by the North Texas Community Foundation and held at the Amon Carter Center at Lena Pope. Gyna Bivens, Fort Worth City Council, District 5, emceed.

In his on-stage conversation with Downtown Fort Worth, Inc. President Andy Taft (pictured here at left with Kaplan), Robert Kaplan said he believes the future is bright for North Texas and the Dallas-Fort Worth area. He has concerns about the rest of the country because of the declining number of people in the workforce. “The thing about the United States is that there is a war for talent and a war for companies. The good news is Texas and DFW are winning the war,” he said. “The bad news is for the rest of the United States. We need to take steps to grow the population, which means getting discouraged workers back to work, but it also means immigration. If we do not grow the workforce, you are going to see this war intensify.

Without some consensus on how to grow the workforce, economic growth will continue to be sluggish, according to Kaplan. He believes that the way to do this is through immigration. “Immigrants and their children have made up more than 50% of the workforce growth in the last 20 years, and we believe that percentage is going to increase. The baby boom generation is aging out of the workforce, and they are going to need to be replaced by immigrants and their children,” he said. “The United States has been distinctive because it has been receptive to immigration and it has helped us grow faster.”

Mayor Williams spoke enthusiastically about the future of economic development in Arlington. The city is seeing a boom in development in many different sectors. He spoke about the new library and community center, the luxury and residential mixed use 101 Center, Legal Draft Brewery, the investment by General Motors in their Arlington plant, the new plans for Globe Life Park and several other job-creating ventures. “My passion is all about jobs,” he said. “I think that is where it starts because jobs provide opportunity, they provide hope and everything shoots off from that job.” Mayor Williams also spoke about the growing tourism in Arlington and surrounding areas. “The new Texas Live! that surrounds Globe Life Park alone will draw more than 4 million people every year,” he said. All of these projects will create more jobs and opportunity for the citizens of Tarrant County.

A panel discussion was moderated by TD Smyers, United Way’s Executive Vice President and COO, pictured here at far left with panelists Robert Sturns, Economic Development Director, City of Fort Worth; Brandom Gengelbach, Executive Vice President for Economic Development, Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce; and Sal Adamski, Workforce Improvement Director, Workforce Solutions for Tarrant County.

The panel spoke about innovation in workforce and economic development here in Tarrant County. There were two underlying themes in the discussion: community and connection. “We have to have a more holistic approach. We have to work together to move the needle on prosperity while maintaining the brand and charm of Tarrant County,” said Brandom Gengelbach. Collaboration between the government, the public sector and the social sector is a key to success. “Wage rates are stagnant and poverty rates are fairly high for a community of this size,” said Robert Sturns. “We have got to engage our partners in a holistic way to attack these opportunities.” According to Sal Adamski, when companies come into this area, the first question they are asking is what kind of workforce is here. “Having a trained, skilled workforce is the key to growth,” he said. The panel pointed out that none of these approaches is new, but coming together at the table will be the key to a winning strategy for Tarrant County.