JLL Panel: Region’s Explosive Growth Presents Challenges, Opportunities

Dan Branch,
Dan Branch, David Leininger, Bud Weinstein, Anne Motsenbocker, Todd Williams, James Oberwetter, and Paul Whitman.

With a population that’s 6.7 million strong, Dallas-Fort Worth has experienced exponential growth over the past decade. Last year, the region added 132,000 residents, making it the country’s fastest-growing metropolitan area. At this rate, DFW’s population will reach 9 million in the next 12 years.

“I see no reason for these trends not to continue,” said Bernard “Bud” Weinstein, adjunct professor of business economics at SMU’s Cox School of Business. “The next 30 years is going to be very, very promising for this area.”

Weinstein was among the panelists at an event hosted by Jones Lang LaSalle last week to talk about the area’s growth and what it means. He was joined by Anne Motsenbocker, regional president of Chase and chair of the 2013 Dallas Regional Chamber; Ambassador James C. Oberwetter, the Chamber’s president; U.S. Rep. Dan Branch (R-Dallas); Todd Williams, executive director of the nonprofit education-focused entity Commit!; and DART executive David Leininger. The discussion, moderated by JLL’s Paul Whitman, focused on projections for the next 15 years.

Motsenbocker said one of the biggest draws for businesses seeking to relocate to Texas is the region’s core asset: DFW Airport. “We are centrally located in the U.S., we have great weather … and you can get to either coast easily and quickly. Next year, Love Field will have unlimited access to the country and to the world. We really are becoming a logistics center.”

Transportation and logistics companies are top industries relocating to North Texas, followed by financial services firms, Motsenbocker said. She cited the business-friendly environment in Dallas-Fort Worth, which Rep. Branch said can be chalked up to Texas’ historical limited government approach.

“[Our Constitution] is very distrustful of centralized power in Austin,” Branch said. Because of this, Texas legislators cannot easily change or dramatically increase spending, or push big regulatory changes. However, one of the reasons people are coming to Texas is low taxation, along with light and sensible regulation.

This can be a double-edged sword, according to Branch. “Our success could be our undoing,” he says. “Some of us are concerned as 1,400 people a day—our inbound migration—come into the state every day for the last several years and projected forward, then we are going to have stress on our framework … We better have solutions for dramatic growth.”

One area of concern is the area’s ongoing ability to provide an educated workforce. Williams, of Commit!, said that DFW’s numbers aren’t great.

There are currently 500,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade in Dallas County, 91 percent of whom are educated in public schools. Out of every 100 children who start ninth grade in Dallas County schools, only 13 graduate college-ready four years later. “That tragic number drops down to 4 percent for our African American and Hispanic children, and today, African American and Hispanic children represent 80 percent of all kids in first grade,” says Williams. “We have a demographic wave coming at us, and right now we’re doing a terrible job of educating and preparing those kids.”

Coupled with a 50 percent dropout rate for students in college—a loss of 5,000 students annually—this translates to an annual $5 billion loss of potential GDP, based on the reasoning that college-educated individuals generate roughly $1 million of GDP in their lifetime. This issue is at the forefront of Texas’ to-do list, and Williams sees it as a push to change Texas’ entire approach to public education.

“It’s not just a Dallas problem,” he says. “It’s a Texas problem … this is incredibly important to our region and our ability to continue to prosper.”