Economic Engines: Tech workforce is Richardsons strength, redevelopment its challenge

By Bill Hethcock 
Dallas Business Journal | Staff Writer  
Welcome to Economic Engines, where each week we spotlight a community’s economic development initiatives, challenges and opportunities related to attracting corporate relocations, expansions, job creation and investment.
This week, we hear from Bill Sproull, president and CEO of the Richardson Chamber of Commerce and the Richardson Economic Development Partnership, who tells us what the city is doing to attract new companies and to recruit and retain young professionals to fill the jobs the companies are creating.
What’s Richardson’s biggest asset in terms of economic development? Workforce is definitely No. 1. Access to top technical and white-collar workers. That’s absolutely our biggest strength.
Many cities say their workforce is their top asset, but what differentiates Richardson's? When we do labor shed studies of the ability to recruit white-collar and technical workers within a 30-minute commute, we’ve got the best access to that labor pool of any location in the Metroplex. It’s the transportation network and where those employees live. Part of it is the legacy that we’ve had as the technology center in North Texas, and increasingly it’s places like UT Dallas in Richardson, which is pumping out talented workers. Part of it is our two excellent school systems — Plano and Richardson — and working with them on career and technology education programs and building that future pipeline. We’ve got great access to both incumbent workers as well as our future workforce.
And other strengths? We have a plentiful supply of commercial real estate. If you’re in the market today looking for a good chunk of Class A office space, we’ve got the inventory. When State Farm was building their campus in Richardson, they occupied over a million square feet temporarily. They’ve released that back into the market, so I’ve got a million square feet of office space to fill up. The third is our brand. It’s the history of the Telecom Corridor and being a technology community, and I think that’s known globally. In addition, we are blessed to be located on some major transportation networks between Interstate 635 and the Bush/190 tollway and with U.S. 75 running through the city and the DART Red Line and hopefully in the not-too-distant future, a Cotton Belt commuter line will connect us to DFW.
What’s Richardson’s biggest challenge? There’s a lot of competition out there, obviously, whether it’s from Plano or Frisco or Allen. Other cities have come on very strong. It makes us stronger as a region, but it also provides a lot more internal competition.
What additional challenges? The real challenge for Richardson is redevelopment. We’ve got an older southern part of the city that’s going through a lot of change. And we’ve got a 1,000-acre area that was all part of the Telecom Corridor that one time had vacancy of up to a third of all the commercial space left. That’s fortunately decreased to about 13 percent vacancy. But it’s going to need a lot of enhancements to keep it strong and particularly to have the amenities that modern workforces look for. That area is bounded by Campbell Road to the north, Apollo Road to the south, Plano Road on the east and Greenville Avenue on the west, close to 75. It would include the Arapaho DART station. There's 1,000 acres in that area. We’re actually going through a study on how to revitalize that area and looking at some pretty interesting concepts to do that.
What do those entail? They’re built around innovation, really. Innovation for all companies, not focusing on any one sector. Taking advantage of the rich fiber and other assets that are already there. Getting stronger partnerships with researchers and the university in that area. Building more of the entrepreneurial basis of the area. Trying to recreate some of that energy that used to exist in that area around research and entrepreneurship, but this time, with a lot more sustainability because it’s not going to be focused on telecom.
Who are your major competitors? Day in and day out, we compete with some areas of Dallas, but particularly the northern suburbs. The market north of LBJ from 75 all the way past the (Dallas North) tollway, and going north. That’s the zone that a lot of projects for which we compete are looking.
What type of companies fit or don't fit into Richardson’s economic development strategy? Some of my competitors have done very well at recruiting some high-profile headquarters. We’ve certainly got our share of headquarters in Richardson with Fossil, Lennox — two big publicly traded companies. But we have a lot of regional facilities. If somebody’s looking for the really glitzy headquarters location in a brand new area, we’ll face some tough competition on that.
What projects are in your pipeline? I think you’re going to see us hit a lot more singles and doubles rather than a home run, to use a baseball analogy. Getting somebody like State Farm in is a generational thing. I wouldn’t anticipate that, but some singles, doubles, and maybe a triple. The pipeline is looking good. But I’ve also been in this business long enough to know we’re long in the cycle at this point. The fundamentals look good. We continue to see a lot of companies looking at the region. But businesses are also waiting to see what the federal government is going to do about tax reform, health care (and other issues) before they’re making any big capital investments or any really big shifts. You’ll still see some movement, but companies are proceeding cautiously.
What has State Farm’s ongoing massive consolidation in Richardson brought to the city? More jobs, more payroll, more sales tax, more energy, more customers.
What is Richardson doing to attract and retain the talent that employers need? One of the things we’re becoming very successful at doing is recruiting young professionals into a first-ring suburb. We have an eclectic mix of housing that’s great for older millennials that want to start families and be near work, but they still want the entertainment options like the Alamo Drafthouse or DFW Chinatown or Food Truck Park nearby. We’ve created a whole campaign targeting young professionals with our Real Richardson initiative. We built a website called that showcases opportunities for young professionals to live, work and play in Richardson. A lot of them tell us that they want access to DART, so living in a place where they can just get on a DART train and go downtown and go out to a place like American Airlines Center — we’ve got that. And yet we’ve got all of these jobs that they’re taking. I think we were one of the first cities to really have a focused young professional recruitment campaign. I know that the Dallas chamber has launched a talent recruitment effort that is focused primarily outside the region. Ours is mainly focused within the region.
To read this article on the Dallas Business Journal, click here.  
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