As the nation looks toward a post-pandemic economic recovery, WorkingNation is speaking with the nation’s mayors about job creation, training programs, and in-demand industries in their communities. In this article in the series, we Focus on Fort Worth.
“As a leader of a major city, or any city for that matter, you really have to look at the big picture, holistically,” says Mayor Betsy Price of Fort Worth.
Just like her counterparts around the country, Price is dealing with the challenges presented throughout the last year. More recently, the city had to contend with, what Price calls, “The storm of the century.”
“We’ve come out of a major energy crisis with this terrible ice storm. You’re looking at the big picture, but to wrap your head around it, I’ve got to look at this a bit, this a bit, this a bit.”
Like the rest of the nation, the pandemic has taken a toll on hospitality and travel in Fort Worth. “The hardest-hit piece has been everyone that’s involved in the hospitality industry from hotels to restaurants, convention staff, all the hotels that are around the convention center, anybody that’s involved in events or hospitality has been incredibly hard-hit,” says Price. “We have a growing tourism industry and it’s been hard-hit.”
Also impacted, Fort Worth’s deeply-rooted aviation sector. Among the companies headquartered in the area are American Airlines and Bell. In addition to aviation, according to Price, the big sectors in Fort Worth include medical technology, defense, and mobility.
Pulling Toward Economic Recovery
But Price notes there are signs of recovery. “We’re getting much more interest now at our [Fort Worth] Convention Center. We had the National Finals Rodeo in December. That was really fun because it put so many people back to work. They were working at the Convention Center and working at the hotels. That industry is expanding, so a lot of them are going back into that field.”
Price says entrepreneurship and innovation are taking off. “I’m very optimistic that the job market is rebounding very well around here. There are so many people who said, ‘You know, I’ve always wanted to do that startup and now’s the time to work on it.’ And I’ve been amazed TECH Fort Worth, which is our business incubator, has been incredibly busy.”
Price also notes that the earlier round of federal funds that the city received were funneled to small businesses. “We got $158 million in CARES dollars. We put 34% of our dollars directly into small business and it’s saved so many businesses. We put $5 million into Wi-Fi going into communities that were underserved. Probably $10 million for the homeless population.”
She continues, “We didn’t use our dollars to augment the city budget. We used it to keep our economy rolling, to help our businesses. One of the real pluses for us is that we did discover we can tighten our belts, internally. We should be here to help facilitate working people in the businesses they work for.”
The Movement of Goods
Hillwood Properties, founded 30 years ago, is a major stakeholder when it comes to the logistics sector in North Texas. “AllianceTexas is our primary core, longest lasting development in all of Hillwood. It’s a 27,000-acre master-planned community development,” explains Charlie Campbell, CFO and COO, Hillwood Properties.
“Our core is that we are a logistics industrial-based development with over 53 million square feet of industrial real estate.”
With 533 companies located at AllianceTexas, Campbell says logistics is a growth industry for the area. “We’re anchored by Fort Worth Alliance Airport which is the world’s first, fully industrial airport that was built in 1989. Then we’ve also got two rail lines running through Alliance Texas.”
Additionally, Campbell explains, “Hillwood completed building one of the first air hubs for Amazon Air in late 2019.”
Acknowledging the hardships of 2020, Campbell says, “People still need to live. They still need to buy essential services, food and goods, and things like that. The shipment of goods across the country doesn’t stop.”
“If you look at year-over-year 2019 versus 2020, overall retail spending in the United States increased about 3%. However, e-commerce spending increased 32%,” says Campbell. “That’s one reason that AllianceTexas and other industrial markets really did not get hurt.”
North Texas, according to Campbell, is attractive to those looking to settle there. “It starts with tax revenue. It starts with jobs, economic development, and just helping to improve the community. Make the community a great place to live, work, raise a family. Those are a lot of things that are important to people in Fort Worth.”
Innovative Technology is Creating Jobs in Logistics
Campbell says gathering stakeholders leads to innovation. “How can companies get those goods into the consumer’s hands quicker, faster in a more creative way? This is where we start talking about autonomous vehicles, drone delivery,” says Campbell.
“One of the things that we spent a lot of time over the last several years is creating what’s called the AllianceTexas Mobility and Innovation Zone (MIZ),” explains Campbell.
“Because of our unique relationships with the city of Fort Worth, with all of these other municipalities, our connections with the FAA, the airport, with other governmental agencies, we have the ability to convene people and create an opportunity for companies with new technologies that need to be researched, developed, tested, and put into place and make sometimes an incubator-type setting.”
Getting job-ready skills
“We need to arm our young people with as many possible skills so that they can actually get an entry level job into a career field and then actually work their way up,” says CyLynn Braswell, executive director for College and Career Readiness & Innovation for Northwest ISD.
“One of the things that we try to do, while we are developing pathways that are very specific to certain technical skills that allow for an industry credential, is build into all of our systems a set of transportable skills. No matter whether you’re training for logistics or training to be a veterinarian, there’s a set of professional skills and tangible technical skills that really apply no matter what kind of job that you’re in.”
Braswell continues, “We look at experiences. We really want great problem solvers. We help our young people find a way to get those good academic skills and the ability to succeed with wherever they go. We want to develop their passion.”
More than 10,000 students in grades 6-12 participate in the district’s career and technical education.
“Automation…still needs an actual human to use the technology”
The school district’s career pathways offer a variety of options including IT, manufacturing, finance, and health care. Braswell says logistics is a strong sector in the community that requires a wide array of skills.
“When you look at logistics, specifically, are we training in robotics and teaching people how to use infrared sensors? Are we teaching the students how to work with different types of air conditioning systems in a warehouse?”
“All of those things are automated and every bit of those pieces, while yes, there is automation within it, still needs an actual human to use the technology and to problem solve with it. They need somebody to work on those pieces of equipment,” says Braswell. “They need somebody to troubleshoot when things go offline. They need somebody to understand how to write script or code in that program to make that machine do what it needs to do.”
“If drones are their passion, it doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily going to work in one singular industry. Maybe they work for a surveyor or in logistics.”
Braswell stresses the importance of experiential learning. “We believe in designing our spaces to emulate industry. Actually bringing in the equipment, the training, the curriculum that adults would have in the industry, and start it with our students so that they feel confident and comfortable.”
The drone program is housed in the Academy for Aviation and paired with the Business Academy. “We want to coalesce them together to help that entrepreneurial spirit develop,” says Braswell.
“Our models are built around student enterprises. One of the things we’re anticipating in the capstone of our [drone] program is the students will actually run a student enterprise with the drone,” notes Braswell. “In my welding program, we have welding shops that also do custom metal artwork, and they sell to the public. Our culinary program, we have a restaurant that’s open.”
A new report from Burning Glass Technologies identifies five sectors that will drive economic recovery. Among them – logistics. In-demand jobs will include “project managers, analysts, and other analytical roles.”
The other sectors are green, automated, remote, and readiness. The report states, “Together, these five growth engines will come to comprise one in six jobs (16%) by 2026.
Optimism About the Future
“Having a good, honest job and going to work is a good thing. Getting into the right job is important and the right career. That’s rewarding. It matters. It’s something that can be fulfilling and special,” says Braswell.
She continues, “Careers are great. Not just a job, a career. You’re going to learn as you go through your career and you’re going to get better with that career. You’re going to develop more and more skills. I’m still learning.”
Campbell says the future looks bright. “I’m incredibly optimistic. I think we’ve got a lot of good stuff ahead for us here, not only at Alliance, but in Fort Worth and North Texas. We’re going to continue to get people vaccinated and people are going to continue to get back to work.”
Despite the health and energy crises, Price is optimistic, too – for her city and her constituents. “I really think long-term, it’ll be a small bump up rather than a drag down for us, which we were afraid it might be, at first. But I think you have got to find the lemonade out of the lemons, right?”