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Dallas’ new play to compete for business

Proposal could bolster Dallas’ economic development toolbox

For more than a decade, this newspaper has urged Dallas to create a quasi-independent economic development arm to develop city-owned properties and pursue real estate projects and community initiatives that the city and private investors cannot or will not do alone.

The lack of focus had deleterious consequences. Dallas has missed out repeatedly in competitions with rival cities and struggled to make significant improvements in southern Dallas. With a “yes” vote today, the City Council could finally make a potentially game-changing move.

A new development corporation would add another mechanism to help Dallas address the twin problems of jump-starting economic development, especially in southern Dallas, and competing with suburbs and other states in attracting and developing businesses.

The city would commit $7 million from pandemic relief funding to establish the new organization, which would operate at arm’s length from City Hall with its own board and executive officer. And while it would have some autonomy, the mayor, city manager and other city economic development officials would retain some oversight over financing and the selection of the corporation’s governing board.

The end game is to create an organization with greater expertise that also can respond to investment opportunities and market conditions. And there is another side benefit: insulating investment decisions from the political meddling of council members.

We didn’t think it would take a decade for the city to take this step. It is a common critique that City Hall’s bureaucracy is too stretched and unable to seize certain development opportunities. Consequently, Dallas has struggled against cities that have recruitment tools ready and able to deploy, including site selection tours, regional briefings, workforce research and the all-important access to business networks and community leaders.

New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Austin, Baltimore, Atlanta and other major national competitors have economic development corporations. Moreover, Dallas’ most aggressive rivals are on its doorstep. And unlike Dallas, many North Texas suburbs that aren’t part of DART allocate a portion of local sales tax dollars to operate economic development corporations and provide financial incentives to businesses.

The development corporation is an important part of a broader economic development strategy. The city also vows to be more attentive to quality of life issues, affordable housing and workforce training, the latter initiative being led by Lynn McBee, a well-respected community volunteer now responsible for organizing the city’s strategy to improve the employable skills of Dallas residents.

Any economic development plan is only as good as the commitment, funding (which could be a mix of private contributions and perhaps money from a future bond issue) and talent behind it. This organization must be credible, transparent, accountable to taxpayers and residents, stay on track and avoid mission creep. Most of all, the organization must show results, especially in southern Dallas, where the city knows it must do better.

Dallas Morning News Editorial. Dallas Morning News editorials are written by the paper's Editorial Board and serve as the voice and view of the paper. The board considers a broad range of topics and is overseen by the Editorial Page Editor. @dmnopinion

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