Economist cites Top 10 Texas events, includes Telecom Corridor



What was more important in Texas' economic history: the opening of Dallas/Fort Worth Airport in 1974, or the approval of Interstate 35 in 1962? The wave of corporate relocations to the Lone Star State in the 1980s and '90s, or the opening of Alliance Airport in 1989?


Texas economist Ray Perryman has thought long and hard about those and other events, and last week he shared his Top 10 list with a Fort Worth audience of economic development officials at the Worthington Renaissance hotel.


Here's a rundown of the most significant developments during the past 50 years, with one each from 10 broad categories meant to encompass all the aspects of the state's economic development.


Air conditioning. Texas' population has grown about twice as fast as the nation's since 1974, whereas before 1960 it grew at about the same rate. The difference? Good old A/C. By 1965, half the homes and cars in Texas had air conditioning. Without A/C, Perryman argues, you wouldn't have people relocating to the South, or moving to the suburbs and spending all that time driving to work, making it the top socioeconomic event. Little-known fact: Fort Worth has a long history in auto A/C, dating to resident John L. Clardy establishing a manufacturing and installation business about 1950.


Oil embargo. The 1973-74 OPEC oil embargo pushed crude oil prices from $3 in the 1960s to $35 in the 1970s. As Perryman put it, "When the thing you sell the most increases in price by 1,200 percent, that's good" -- for Texas, anyway. While the embargo led the energy-natural resources category, the Barnett Shale and the region's water planning challenges were also significant.


The final frontier. The defense-aerospace category was crowded, what with Texas defense contractors landing plenty of big contracts during the Vietnam War, such as Bell Helicopter's UH-1 Huey and General Dynamics' F-111 fighter/bomber. Today, Lockheed Martin's F-35 is the Pentagon's biggest weapon program. But NASA's selection in 1961 of Houston as home of the Manned Spacecraft Center tops the rest. When Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in 1969, "Houston was the center of the world," he says.


DFW Airport. Interstate highways and railroads are important in the transportation category, but the 1974 opening of the airport allowed the area to advance its position as the center of commerce and finance in the Southwest. And besides, Perryman adds, "Dallas and Fort Worth finally got together and did something."


Little-known fact: A 1917 Texas map includes the concept of a major roadway from Laredo through San Antonio and Austin, splitting at Fort Worth and Dallas before rejoining near Gainesville -- pretty much the route I-35 takes today.


The dome. TV's Dallas? The movies' Urban Cowboy? Willie Nelson and the Texas music outlaws? All good stuff in the state's tourism-culture development. But Perryman picks the 1965 completion of the Astrodome. It was twice the diameter of any other domed structure ever built, and architects still vote it one of the most recognized structures in the world, he says. (Today, the world's largest dome is Cowboys Stadium.)


Business incentives. This one gets a little wonky, but pay attention. The state's move to branch banking in the 1980s and tort reform in the 1990s were major, when it comes to legislative-regulatory milestones, Perryman gives the nod to a state constitutional amendment in 1989 that declared economic development "a public purpose" that qualifies for public dollars. It paved the way for cities to levy sales taxes for economic development and allowed state business recruiting funds.


High technology. Austin is the state's silicon center, and it started with two research consortiums: Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corp., or MCC, in 1983, and Semiconductor Manufacturing Technology, or Sematech, in 1987. They marked a change in attitude in state leaders from depending on petroleum to pushing new technology as an economic driver, Perryman says. Other big electronics developments include Texas Instruments engineer Jack Kilby's invention of the integrated circuit in 1958 and development of Richardson's Telecom Corridor.


Heart breakthroughs. When it comes to the healthcare-biomedical science category, the advances of Drs. Michael DeBakey (first coronary bypass, 1964) and Denton Cooley (first artificial heart, 1969) established the reputational foundation for Houston's Texas Medical Center complex. Little-known fact: At more than 1,000 acres, the center is roughly the size of the Chicago "Loop" business district.


Alliance. The relocations of AMR Corp., Exxon Mobil, J.C. Penney and other big companies helped give Texas the most Fortune 500 companies of any state. But when it comes to the state becoming a center of corporate recruitment, they can't match the opening of Alliance Airport in December 1989, Perryman says. Little-known fact: In 1987, Alliance developer Ross Perot Jr. invited Perryman for a helicopter ride above the north Fort Worth prairie. They landed in a cow pasture, where Perot pointed to Interstate 35W and a major Santa Fe Railroad line, and then asked: "What if we put an airport right here?"


NAFTA. Texas had few exports in 1960 but now ranks No. 1, accounting for 14 percent of all U.S. exports. A big reason: the North American Free Trade Agreement, which leads Perryman's globalization category. Texas' trade just with Mexico is bigger than the total trade of most nations, Perryman says.


Jim Fuquay, 817-390-7552

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