Regional Cooperation is critical to continued success

06/17/2011
From Dallas Business Journal: Comment
 
Frontlines
Bill Sproull 
 
Published on June 17, 2011
 
 
When VCE, The Virtual Computing Environmental Company announced earlier this year that it planned to establish its first headquarters in Richardson, it was a major win for North Texas, which was competing with the Boston and San Francisco Bay areas for this new high-tech operation. The announcement will mean more than 400 new, high-paying jobs in the emerging cloud computing sector, contributing further to D-FW's nationwide preeminence in technology.
 
The Dallas Business Journal penned an opinion piece following this announcement entitled, "Focus the Hunt Outside D-FW." I couldn't agree more. In fact, there a dire need, and opportunity, for greater collaboration at the regional level to create the conditions necessary for sustained economic growth.
 
There's no doubt that neighboring cities in North Texas are in competition with one another for companies relocating within the region and new start-up businesses. There's a tacit rule in economic development that communities should not actively "poach" from a neighbor, yet this rule gets blurry when an internal relocation "opportunity" is brought to a community by a broker or the company itself. The justification is often articulated that if a community doesn't respond to this opportunity, then the company might just leave the region or go somewhere else within the region.
 
Our primary focus ought to be on creating more opportunities for the region as a whole, and then, only secondarily, competing respectfully and intelligently with one another for businesses.
 
We all benefit from regional economic development successes, as dollars and human capital both readily flow across municipal boundaries. After all, when VCE hires hundreds in Richardson, those professionals won't all buy or rent homes, do their shopping and perform civic service solely in Richardson - they'll also invest their time and money in other nearby cities.
 
At the same time, those new workers will be dependent upon a regional infrastructure - good roads, viable transit options, clean air, ample water, a reliable power supply and so on - and those needs absolutely demand regional planning and implementation.
 
That's why other regional leaders and I are concerned about how local incentives are often used to lure businesses away from their neighboring cities. The Texas House of Representatives acknowledged this concern when it recently approved House Concurrent Resolution 147, authored by State Rep. Angie Chen Button. The resolution encouraged cities to work together regionally to attract and retain business investment. In an era of government fiscal austerity, competing communities in North Texas must be extra vigilant not to use scarce public dollars to incentivize deals that don't add to the regional economic pie, but just shift economic activity around in our area.
 
Research shows that access to an educated and skilled workforce is generally more crucial to employers than the availability of incentives. Further, individuals often choose quality of life over job prospects when deciding where to locate. Thus, cities should focus more efforts on mutual coordination to enhance quality-of-life factors, such as a regional transportation network that reduces time spent in traffic and and maintains breathable air.
 
There are good examples of regional cooperation resulting in greater economic prosperity for all of us. They include regional transit efforts such as DART, regional economic development marketing initiatives such as the DFW Marketing Team led by the Dallas and Fort Worth Chambers, evolving international air service support initiatives being developed by D/FW International Airport and the North Texas Commission, and entrepreneurship support groups like the North Texas Regional Center for Innovation & Commercialization.
 
Great regions of the world learn to work together while still offering multiple competing locations within their regions. North Texas has, can and should continue to do the same.
 
Sproull is president & CEO of the Richardson Economic Development Partnership. Contact him at bill@telecomcorridor.com 
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