PFSweb, a growing business providing e-commerce solutions to many major retailers, was courted by several communities when it was looking for a new location for its professional staff of more than 400 employees.

The company ended up opening its new facility in April 2012 in Allen because the city and the Allen Economic Development Corporation best understood its needs.

“The entire economic development group listened well in terms of what our needs and requirements were. The city’s been great,” says Mark Layton, founder and former CEO of PFSweb. “One year in, I don’t have anything negative to say about our experience in Allen.”

Smart Business spoke with Layton, who recently left PFSweb to pursue other business opportunities, about the factors that led to the move and a 10-year lease in Allen.

Why was PFSweb looking to leave its Plano, Texas facility?

We had been there about 20 years and there were growth issues, as well as a parking problem. Our real estate professionals encouraged us to take a broader look at the market and it became apparent that there was an opportunity to create competition.

The challenge was that we had two distinct uses — a worldwide data center and a call center operation — that potentially required different types of facility solutions. Vacancy rates had been so high in downtown Dallas that it was cost effective to relocate to a space that also gives us significant ability to expand and contract to meet our needs.

The city of Allen didn’t have a suitable site for the call center, but obviously played a part in relocation of our headquarters and technology development lab.

What separated Allen from the competition?

The building our commercial real estate representatives and the economic development corporation brought to us had some great amenities and potential. The owner offered flexibility in configuring the space correctly for us, building out a corporate park with a running track, basketball courts, horseshoe pits, etc. He also allowed us to be single tenant even though the space was bigger than what we needed — he delayed a requirement for us to lease the space for several years, giving us room to grow.

What role did the city and Allen Economic Development Corporation play?

Their help regarding financial supplements was very important. Dallas, Richardson and Frisco were also aggressive in trying to lure us, particularly when the call center piece was separated and we had about 400 relatively high-paying jobs that were very attractive.

The city of Allen and its economic development group showed a lot of awareness and understanding of our challenges relating to accounting regulations and how the incentives could be shown on our books to help reduce overall expense. Accounting regulations want you to take incentives in a lump sum; our profit and loss statement would have shown a higher rental through the entire 10-year term and a big financial windfall in the final quarter.

Other economic development corporations handed us a standard contract and didn’t show a desire to change the terms and conditions. With Allen, they had dealt with these issues with other public companies, and their familiarity was a breath of fresh air. We didn’t have to do a lot of education as we did with the other groups. Language needed to be structured correctly and it required flexibility as their legal group worked with our accountants. That was a differentiator for us.

Would you recommend the city to other companies looking to relocate?

Certainly, from my standpoint it has been a great experience. The only drawback is that Allen doesn’t have a large inventory of buildings, although the city is addressing that situation and there is land that can be developed if companies want to build to suit.

It’s been a great relationship and the economic development corporation did a wonderful job for us. We would absolutely recommend Allen to other companies looking for this type of office space.

Mark Layton is the founder and former CEO of PFSweb. Reach him at (972) 881-2900 or mlayton@pfsweb.com.

Reach the Allen Economic Development Corporation at www.allentx.com or call (972) 727-0250.

Published in Los Angeles

A global company that started out as a provider of telecommunications equipment, TelStrat was founded in 1993 in Plano, Texas to take advantage of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex’s Telecom Corridor.

“Being in the middle of the telecom industry is very important to us because of the engineering and product development talent that is available,” says Jennifer Slack, CFO of TelStrat.

When the company sold off a division a couple years ago to focus solely on software, the Plano site was leased to another business and TelStrat needed to find a new location. TelStrat celebrated its 20th anniversary this past February and is focused on providing call recording and workforce optimization solutions.

Smart Business spoke with Slack about the decision to move the company’s headquarters to nearby Allen, Texas.

What were the key factors favoring Allen?

It was the location and the local talent pool. We knew we wanted to stay in the same general vicinity. Employees love the Allen area because of the good schools and housing that is available. The quality of life that’s in Allen makes it very easy to find employees.

How has the Allen Economic Development Corporation assisted TelStrat?

They helped with incentives that made it more affordable to change locations. Moving can be very disruptive, as well as expensive, and the financial incentives they provided definitely helped.

The city of Allen and the economic development corporation also sponsor many programs for businesses. They provide many opportunities for networking and encourage businesses within Allen to build on the synergies available, or just talk to each other for advice. They certainly promote that spirit of cooperation.

At one of their events, I met a representative from a local company that was able to help with our recruiting efforts. We’ve probably not taken full advantage of what Allen and the economic development corporation offer, but it did help with recruiting.

What is the nature of TelStrat’s operations in Allen?

It’s a complete headquarters facility; we have about 50 employees working in departments from sales order entry to engineers for software development and support and maintenance of our product with customers. There are also some sales staff, accounting and HR personnel.

The landlord was very helpful in remodeling the site. We predominately needed office and lab space and the building had served as a call center or back office. We’re in a five-year lease and it’s a very convenient location right off of the North Central Expressway.

What’s the best thing about your new location?

It’s the convenience — it’s very easy to get around for meetings, or if we have clients or partners visiting us. There are plenty of nearby options for lunches and shopping, which employees enjoy because it saves them a lot of time and helps with developing a good work/life balance. It‘s great when you have children and you need some flexibility if they have something special going on or are sick. You can pick them up for a dental appointment and get back fairly quickly. It helps a lot to have your place of employment near your neighborhood.

We’re a pretty simple company with simple needs. The city of Allen and economic development board have made it easy for us to do business here.

Jennifer Slack is the CFO at TelStrat. Reach her at (972) 633-4512 or jslack@telstrat.com.

Reach the Allen Economic Development Corporation at www.allentx.com or call (972) 727-0250.

Published in Los Angeles

 

Cabela’s, the world’s largest direct marketer of hunting, fishing and related outdoor merchandise, considers its stores to be destinations that draw customers from a broad geographic area. So it was unusual when the company decided to open a store in Allen, Texas — just 40 miles away from a Fort Worth, Texas, location that boasts a 230,000-square-foot showroom with amenities that include a museum of animal displays, an indoor archery range and two large aquariums.

“It was kind of a tough choice to make. There are no other stores that close to each other in the company,” says Steve Andognini, general manager of Cabela’s Allen. “This store is considerably smaller than the Fort Worth store. It was a concept store for Cabela’s, less than half the size of the Fort Worth store, but with the same amount of product and the same assortment, just in a smaller design.”

Smart Business spoke with Andognini about the store and the Allen community’s response since it opened on April 14, 2011.

Why did Cabela’s decide to open a store in Allen?

We do a lot of research before going into a market. Allen had a great combination of good demographics and users of our products and our brand. We do a lot of zip code surveys and we know where customers are who are already purchasing from other stores and from our catalog, and we knew that this area would be extremely popular for our business.

What we found was that instead of the Fort Worth and Allen stores pulling business from each other, both have actually grown their business in the past year.

To what do you attribute that success?

One of the great things is that the area around Allen is thriving. We’ve been very fortunate to have some great, very loyal customers and also a great talent pool for our employees. There’s so much local pride, almost a small-town pride that’s here, and that benefits the store greatly. The local economy’s strong; the housing market hasn’t been as affected as it has been in other markets in the U.S. where there are Cabela’s stores.

How does Cabela’s differ from other outdoor equipment retailers?

Cabela’s sells fun. But the company has also stuck to the same values that Jim and Dick Cabela started it with 51 years ago. We know our customers and understand them better than any other outdoor retailer. We say it’s in our nature. From all levels of the company, from outfitters in the store to the CEO, everyone is passionate about living the outdoor lifestyle. They choose to spend their time away from work in the outdoors. That can include a variety of activities — Olympic trap shooters have worked at the store, a professional kayaker works here now — but they all do something. It all ties back to the outdoors and what we do, and we all do it because it’s fun. We’re here at Cabela’s because it’s like a toy store for us.

What are some of things that make a Cabela’s shopping experience special?

There are several hundred wildlife displays throughout the store. Everywhere you’re shopping, you’re surrounded by wildlife from all over the world in full-scale displays. In the back of the store, there are two aquariums with fresh-water fish.

There are also clinics, demonstrations and events at the store for free. When you walk in on a Saturday, you’re surrounded by activities — you can try out a product, sample food, and take part in a lot of things other retailers don’t do. Customers come here all the time on the weekend just to see what’s going on because they know they’re going to have fun.

Unique to the Allen store is a master ammunition reloading specialist, a former Marine sniper, who teaches reloading classes at the store.

Any other ways this store varies from others in the Cabela’s chain?

All the concepts of Cabela’s are still here, but in a scaled-down version because we don’t have the second floor. One thing that’s different is that instead of entire sections of the store dedicated to the wildlife displays, they are incorporated throughout the store so they are everywhere you shop. The goal with building this concept store was to somehow find a way to give the customer an experience that’s equally as exciting as that of the Fort Worth store but within a smaller environment.

Allen was built with a one-story floor plan, different lighting, fixtures and layout, which makes it a more efficient building. Going forward, all of the stores will be built more or less like Allen’s.

Would you recommend that other companies open businesses in Allen?

Absolutely. I’ve been in retail for 10 years, mostly in management positions, and this has been the friendliest, most enjoyable retail environment of the five or six markets in which I’ve worked. It’s because of the great customers in the community and the great amount of talent working here — from young people going to school to retired men and women. There’s a really diverse candidate pool with a lot of talent in this market. I can say, hands-down, that Allen’s a great place for someone to come and start a business.

Steve Andognini is general manager of Cabela’s Allen. Reach him at (214) 383-0502. Reach the Allen Economic Development Corporation at www.allentx.com or call (972) 727-0250.

Insights Economic Development is brought to you by Allen Economic Development Corporation.

Published in Los Angeles

When David Rippy and his business partners Scott Winsett and Bill Jackson founded Bonfire Studios in 2008, they and their 30 employees focused on the emerging mobile and social gaming markets. Their initial games were created for the iPhone/iPad and Windows platforms, and the success of those games put the company on the map and got the attention of Zynga, the world’s largest social media game maker.

“If you’ve played FarmVille or CastleVille, for example, on Facebook, those are Zynga games,” says Rippy, Zynga Allen’s general manager. “Zynga also makes the popular Words with Friends and Draw Something games for phone. We immediately felt a connection with Zynga, and it acquired Bonfire in late 2010.

The company is now known as Zynga Allen, and since the acquisition, the the Allen, Texas, studio has grown to about 70 full-time employees and Zynga has grown to well over 3,000 employees spread all over the world.

Smart Business spoke with Rippey about the growth of the company and how the Allen location has helped it succeed.

How has Zynga positioned itself in the worldwide gaming market?

Zynga Inc. is the world’s leading provider of social game services, with more than 305 million monthly active users playing games that include FarmVille, Words With Friends, Matching With Friends, Scramble With Friends, The Ville, Bubble Safari, Ruby Blast, Draw Something, Zynga Slingo, CastleVille, CityVille, Hidden Chronicles, Zynga Poker, Zynga Bingo, Zynga Slots, Empires & Allies, The Pioneer Trail and Mafia Wars.

Zynga’s games are available on a number of global platforms, including Facebook, Zynga.com, Google+, Tencent, Apple iOS and Google Android. In addition, through Zynga.org, Zynga players have raised more than $10 million for world social causes. Zynga is headquartered in San Francisco and has offices throughout the U.S. and abroad in locations including Tokyo, Frankfurt, Dublin, Toronto and Bangalore.

How does Zynga’s business model operate?

Zynga’s business model is a big change from the traditional retail model that the industry has relied on for more than 30 years. In the traditional model, consumers had to drive to a store, spend up to $60 on a boxed game, install it and either play it at their desk or in front of the TV. Zynga’s games, on the other hand, are free to play and accessible whenever and however you wish to play them – on your PC, your phone or your tablet.

Most players enjoy Zynga games for free and the games have become an important part of their everyday lives, allowing them to connect with friends and family members all over the world. Zynga makes its money from players who pay for extra features or special items in its games.

Which Zynga operations are based in Allen?

Our Allen location is focused on creating new games for Zynga. CastleVille, our first game as Zynga, was launched in November of last year. It was a huge success and continues to be one of the top games on Facebook today.

As game developers, we have a team of really diverse talents. If you break down the studio, we’re made up of about equal parts software engineers, artists, and game designers. The designers come up with the ideas for the game, write the fiction and create the rules. The artists create the game worlds, the characters and the animations that bring it all to life. The engineers are the geniuses that make it all work on your phone or computer.

In addition to those disciplines, we have analysts who study how people play the games so that we can invest more time in what people enjoy the most. Finally, we have several producers who keep track of project scheduling and costs and basically keep the trains running on time.

How did the company settle on the Allen location, and what role did the Allen Econonic Development Corporation play in that decision?

Bonfire Studios was originally located just north of downtown Dallas. We began looking for new space at about the same time we were being acquired in 2010. We knew we wanted to be north of Interstate 635 because most of our employees are married with kids and live in the Allen, McKinney, Plano and Frisco parts of town.

We did an extensive search all over the Metroplex and considered many factors, including distance from our employees’ homes, quality of the schools and amenities that are attractive to our work force. In the end, Allen was really the ideal fit for Zynga, and our employees love working here.

We found a space that works perfectly for us, and it is located right by Watters Creek, one of the best mixed-use retail, restaurant and entertainment complexes in the Dallas area. Our out-of-town visitors also like our location because of its easy access to the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport via State Highway 121.

The Allen Economic Development Corporation was instrumental in our decision to move to Allen. From Day One, they made us feel like Allen was the right home for Zynga.  Their people were always available to answer questions, introduce us to local businesses and were a great partner in the transition. They continue to be a great partner today.

What would you say to other companies consider locating all or part of their operations in Allen?

I would absolutely recommend Allen, Texas, as a location for other businesses to consider. It offers just about everything a business could need, from high-speed Internet infrastructure to hotels, restaurants, great schools and easy access to the rest of the city.

David Rippy is general manager of Zynga Dallas. Reach him at drippy@zynga.com.. Reach the Allen Economic Development Corporation at www.allentx.com or call (972) 727-0250.

Insights Economic Development is brought to you by Allen Economic Development Corporation.

Published in Los Angeles

When Billings Productions was looking for a new home for its dinosaurs, it found the ideal location in Allen, Texas.

The company got its start nearly a decade ago after Larry and Sandra Billings met in Jakarta, Indonesia, got married, and went to work at Dino-MAE, a company that built dinosaurs. When that company closed, Larry thought he could build more realistic dinosaurs and the couple decided to start their own animated dinosaur company.

In 2003, their first year in business, they built 60 animatronic dinosaurs. Larry passed away in 2007 after the company had started turning a profit, but the company continued to thrive under the leadership of Sandra and their son, Trey. Billings Productions is North America’s leading provider of life-size animatronic dinosaurs and is the only U.S. company that specializes in creating creatures that can withstand the outdoor elements.

Each dinosaur has an electronic brain to produce sound and create realistic movements via a pneumatic system. And its 200 robotic dinosaurs, which include more than 50 species, are in great demand in zoos, amusement parks and museums not only across the country but around the world, says Tim Brightman, director of business development at Billings Productions.

“We currently have shows going on in England, France and Spain, and next year we’ll have shows in New Zealand and Australia,” says Brightman.

Smart Business spoke with Brightman about the world of dinosaurs and why Allen will be the home of Billings Productions for years to come.

How does the business operate?

We lease out animatronic dinosaurs, mostly to zoos, but also to venues such as amusement parks and museums, for temporary exhibits that Larry Billings referred to as ‘edutainment.’ The goal is to encourage discovery and create an awareness of prehistoric life by making learning fun and entertaining. Every boy I’ve ever known, including myself, from about the age of four thinks that dinosaurs are the coolest thing in the world. It’s something you never get over, and Larry felt that way, as well.

We currently have 10 shows out and have more going out in the next few months. Our biggest dinosaur is the T-Rex, which is 45 feel long and 25 feet high. However, that collapses down so that several dinosaurs can fit in the trailers for transportation.

Exhibits generally go out for two to three months at a time. It is a fun and growing business. However, the industry is becoming more competitive and we have to keep moving forward with new ideas.

What precipitated the move to Allen?

When the business first started, it was operating in what was essentially a 20,000-square-foot old aluminum airplane hangar in Texas. We had just outgrown it. We had too many dinosaurs and too many projects we are building to remain in that space. When dinosaurs were coming back, the building was completely full and we needed more room.

Billings Productions has gone from a mom-and-pop business that was run in an ad hoc manner to being a real business. We are getting the business organized and structured, and as we continue to grow, we needed more space.

We scouted all over the place to find a location that was suitable and that had enough space, and we found what we were looking for in Allen. We looked at other locations, including a small town in Texas where fossils had been found, which seemed like a natural fit. But we were very concerned that if we moved 100 miles away, we would lose our core personnel, and we found everything that we needed in Allen. That allowed us to keep our talent and cost effectively locate in a bigger, nicer building. The new space is state of the art and doubles the amount of space we have, giving us more room to store our dinosaurs.

We moved in this spring, and so far, it’s been great. We’re still moving in, but as far as the facility goes, we’ve shipped out a couple of shows since moving there, and it’s so much easier. We have a good loading dock and other things that we didn’t have before, things that make it a whole lot easier to do business. Going forward, as we settle in to our new location, we’re looking into expanding our product lines, and eventually, we are going to set up tours so that people can come through and see how the dinosaurs are built.

In addition, the Allen Economic Development Corporation has made us feel very welcome and wanted. We’re starting to work with them on where the company is going over the next five years and some expansion plans. We plan to be in Allen for the long term and we’re excited about how that relationship will develop over time. Everyone has been amazingly helpful and generous with their time and support, and we really look forward to being here for a long time.

Tim Brightman is director of business development at Billings Productions. Reach him at timbrightman@billingsproductions.com. Reach the Allen Economic Development Corporation at (972) 727-0250 or www.allentx.com.

Published in Los Angeles

When the developers of Watters Creek at Montgomery Farm were looking for a location for their unique, resort-style, mixed-use development, they had a number of options.

Plans for the 52-acre project included a large creekside village green, interactive public art, a variety of retail options, restaurants with al fresco dining and views of the water, and office space and residential lofts, says Cornell Holmes, senior general manager of Watters Creek.

Ultimately, they found that Allen, Texas, offered everything that they needed to succeed.

Smart Business spoke with Holmes about the reasons for choosing Allen and the role the Allen Economic Development Corporation has played in its success.

What played into your decision to locate Watters Creek in Allen, Texas, over other available locations?

As a developer of regional malls, outdoor retail and mixed-use properties, we were conducting a nationwide search for development opportunities. At the time, we used a software program that identified pockets of areas of qualifying population density, growth trends and demographics.

After that, population pockets were further qualified by distance to existing higher-end retail centers. As a company based in Fort Worth, Texas, we were pleasantly surprised when Allen, Texas, ranked in the top five of our nationwide search. Additionally, award-winning Montgomery Farm was being developed and land within a half mile of Central Expressway frontage was available.

What role did the Allen Economic Development Corporation play in your decision to locate in Allen?

Initially, we were attracted to Allen for the fundamentals: strong job growth, an educated work force, household income levels and an outstanding location with available land. Next, the stakeholders committed to creating a truly unique environment and due diligence was conducted based upon plans of creating a LEED certified, vertically integrated urban village with ample open space and top retailers.

At that point, things became challenging. We had already decided that we loved Allen before we knew much about the Allen Economic Development Corporation. But when the due diligence process started to get rough, the AEDC really stepped up and made this opportunity go much more smoothly for us. The AEDC bridged the gap and played a monumental role in making Watters Creek at Montgomery Farm a reality.

How has your relationship with Allen Economic evolved and been maintained?

As a developer/landlord in multiple markets, we appreciate the economic or business Development teams in all the cities in which we have projects. A good ED/BD team helps get the initial project done, assists with attracting quality tenants and helps drive up occupancy. Many cities have good economic development teams. However, Allen has a great economic development team.

The AEDC continues to connect with the existing business community in Allen and they have a real pulse on everything that is happening in the business community. They continually reach out and share ideas. They also provide introductions between existing area businesses and are committed to maintaining a happy and productive work force in Allen.

And of course, they promote our businesses. The Allen Economic Development team is like an extension to our own team and it is incredible to have access to such talent and support.

How has the location impacted your success?

The old cliché is that the three most important things in real estate are location, location and location, and Watters Creek at Montgomery Farm nailed all three. Besides being in a city that is strategically located just 10 minutes north of Dallas, the location along Central Expressway is approaching the 200,000 cars per day mark.

Second, the location is surrounded by growing daytime employment centers. Just across the street is Allen Central Park, a 38-acre site which, when complete, will be a million-square-foot, master-planned office development. Directly across the interstate are more than 500,000 of existing square feet of office, with plans for further development.

Third, the location is part of the Montgomery Farm development, an interconnected master plan on one of the most beautiful landscapes in North Texas. Montgomery Farm is a model for the environmentally conscious community and connects prairie, forest, upscale residential (high, medium and low density), retail and office within 500 acres.

What advice would you give to other business owners considering moving their companies to Allen?

I would advise other business owners not only to meet with the Allen Economic Development Corporation but to take a look at the total package that Allen has to offer as a place to work, live, and play.

  • Ranked among the Top 10 Safest Cities in the country.
  • Ranked among Forbes Top 20 Best Places to Move.
  • Allen Independent School District is lauded as one on the best in the nation, with 10 campuses rated as exemplary and seven earning a recognized rating under the accountability standards set by the Texas Education Agency.
  • The city council, mayor and city manager, and every department from planning to parks to police to fire exhibits the same level of commitment that the AEDC exhibits in partnering with the business community. It is like having additional members of your team without the additional payroll.

And when you’re not working, there is also plenty to do and places to play, including 700 acres of parks, 40 miles of hiking and nature trails, five recreation complexes, a skate park, Hydrous Water Park and top dining and shopping.

To anyone looking to relocate a business, I would recommend contacting the AEDC to see what Allen, Texas, has to offer.

Cornell Holmes is senior general manager of Watters Creek. Reach him at (972) 521-5005 or cholmes@trademarkproperty.com. For more information on the Allen Economic Development Corporation, visit www.allentx.com.

Insights Economic Development is brought to you by Allen Economic Development Corporation

Published in Los Angeles

When Steve Jones, founder of Homeland HealthCare, was looking for a new home for his rapidly expanding business, he considered many locations around the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex.

But although other cities made generous offers to attract the business – a national third-party administrator and managing general agency that specializes in servicing a variety of health and wellness products -- it was Allen, Texas, that easily won the day, says Jones.

“The Allen Economic Development Corporation was very aggressive,” says Jones. “In 2009, we were still at our previous location but we were growing so quickly, we needed a new space. Our previous city wanted us to stay at that location, and two others offered us incentives to move to their cities, but Allen beat them all. They were really aggressive, they offered a lot more, they took the time to come over and meet us and learn about our business, and they were a lot more interested in having us than anyone else.”

Smart Business spoke with Jones about his decision to move his company to Allen and why the city is such a great location for doing business.

What played into your decision to move Homeland HealthCare to a new location?

Although the company was founded in 1997, it wasn’t until 2001 that we started offering discount vision, dental, prescription and medical benefits through employer groups. Then people started asking for more. We had never done major medical, nor did we want to get into it, but we came across a fixed indemnity product that was gaining a lot of acceptance in the marketplace, especially for those who didn’t have major medical available from their employer.

That precipitated our growth until, by 2009, we had a combined 14,000 square feet and 57 employees. As we continued to grow, it was time to find a new location to accommodate that growth.

How did you settle on Allen as the new location for your business?

Once we had outgrown our space, we had a tenant representative go out into the marketplace and give us some options. There was a lot of space and a lot of empty buildings available to us at that time. We looked at locations in several cities but found a really great location in the Watter’s Creek Development in Allen. The development is a multiuse real estate plan that has apartments, retail, restaurants and offices and that looks like a little town. It’s a really great concept, with lots of cool places to eat and lots of retail complexes.

From an employer standpoint, my employees would have places to eat, they would have places to shop and they would have places to live if they wanted to be in this area. And we have covered parking. You’d never have to leave.

Other spots that we looked at just had a building and it was the same dollars for this as compared to buildings on the Dallas Tollway, where there’s no place to eat, no place to shop, there’s nothing. And there was no covered parking. You would walk outside and get into your steaming hot car. It would have been horrible.

It wasn’t a difficult decision to make. As an employer, I need to look for reasons for people to want to come to work at my business, other than just pay and benefits, and it being a great place to work. Our location gives us an advantage in attracting the best employees, I believe.

Since we moved here, our growth has been extraordinary. We built 23,000 square feet initially in 2009, and knowing that our growth was off the charts, since then we’ve built out another 7,000 feet, to reach 30,000 square feet. And in three years in this space, the number of employees has increased from 57 to 160.

What advice would you give to other business owners considering moving their companies to Allen?

If you are considering a move, meet with the people at the Allen Economic Development Corporation and give them an opportunity to show you what Allen has to offer. There is a really good work force around here, a very educated, hardworking work force for companies to draw on, housing is very affordable and the schools are excellent.

I would have no reservations about recommending the people at Allen Economic. They are very easy to work with and they are pretty aggressive. They’re very good at communicating with you, getting you involved in the community and, from an incentive standpoint, they beat everyone else when we were looking at a move. And they are very easy to work with.

There’s a lot of competition for business in the Metroplex, and Allen competes very well. It doesn’t have a big name like some of the other cities in the area, but given the opportunity, I think that any company would be very pleased dealing with the people in Allen. I certainly know that we have been.

Steve Jones is founder of Homeland HealthCare. Reach him at (214) 871-2118 or steve.jones@homelandhealthcare.com. Reach the Allen Economic Development Corporation at (972) 727-0250 or www.allentx.com.

Published in Los Angeles

When The MGHerring Group began studying the Dallas/Fort Worth area as a site for a new mixed-use development, it zeroed in on Allen, Texas, an established city with strong demographics, says Matt Gallo, CPA and development manager at the company.

The MGHerring Group has developed more than 30 major shopping centers and malls in the United States and Mexico, totaling more than 24 million square feet of retail space. It developed The Village at Allen, a 181-acre mixed-use development that includes the Allen Event Center and Courtyard by Marriott hotel, and its sister development, The Village at Fairview, a 200-acre mixed-use development across the street.

“We found Allen interesting because it had had access in terms of highways but didn’t have the retail to support its community,” Gallo says. “We looked at it and saw the community was underserved. Its residents had to drive north or south for retail opportunities, but it had the demographics to support a development project. So we scouted out the market, landed on a site and worked toward developing it.”

Smart Business spoke with Gallo about how retail developments have evolved and why Allen was a good choice for its project.

How has development changed in the last decade?

 

Beginning in the early to mid-2000s, there was a big emphasis on open-air shopping centers. People want to get away from enclosed malls. They like the idea of having convenient easy access and being able to pull straight up in front of a store and park. People also like being outside, and the open-air shopping centers have a town square feel to them. That’s something that’s hard to do in an interior space.

Have you seen an increased interest in mixed-use developments post-recession?

 

I think there’s a lot more interest in multi-use projects rather than mixed use. I refer to mixed use as stacking uses on top of one another, which can be very complicated, complex, costly and time-consuming. When times were good, everyone was jazzed about, and working on, that concept. We saw a lot of proposals; some worked, but a lot didn’t.

What we’re seeing a lot more of now is multi-use, which includes projects that have a lot of uses cobbled together in one center but not necessarily stacked. There is a benefit of certain uses in proximity to one another. For example, The Village at Allen has combined retail and restaurants with the event center, TopGolf entertainment facility and a hotel. Having all those different components is a powerful draw for both retail and business uses. They’ve been planned to work together, and we’ve worked hard to create a pedestrian-friendly feeling.

How have you worked with the Allen Economic Development Corp.?

 

The AEDC is one of the best organizations I’ve seen. They have been a great partner for us and are very aggressive about bringing development to the city. They’re a good resource to help get the message out about the strength of the market as well as to help us talk to retailers. They help sell the message, for instance, of why we need another Target store in Allen when there is a store three miles to the south. We couldn’t have been as successful as we were without the creative minds and courageous people at the AEDC.

How have you worked with the city of Allen?

 

The city staff, city council and really everyone over there really helped us. Today, projects need a partnership with the city. To do projects on the scale of The Village at Allen and The Village at Fairview and to attract the retailers there, we needed the city’s assistance to make it a reality and feasible financially. One thing the city did that was a great success was land Cabela’s. It’s not part of The Village at Allen, but it’s across the street, and to the average person, it looks like it’s part of the village. It’s a great retailer that draws a lot of sales tax dollars for the city, and the city was aggressive in working on the deal. A lot of cities wouldn’t have been that forward-thinking.

Do you have any other projects scheduled in Allen?

 

We don’t have any new projects planned in Allen, but there is still some developable land in The Village at Allen. There are still a few pad sites and about 18 to 20 acres of land to be developed. We’re not sure about the use yet, but we’ll continue to work on that. For us, it’s important to find the right use that has a long-term benefit.

Why would a business want to locate to Allen?

 

It’s a pro-growth city and a balanced community. It is a big city with about 85,000 residents, but it is able to function very quickly and get things done. The city is also very open-minded and willing to consider and listen. It doesn’t look at everything as a checklist and say, “This is how we’ve done it before so it needs to be like this.” And because of that, it’s one of the most successful cities in Texas. They’ve done a great job with growth and providing economic development incentives not only for retail but also for office employment growth. It has high standards but is open to development instead of trying to chase it away. And even though many cities suffered through the recession with tax revenue declines, the city of Allen has been experiencing record growth every year.

Matt Gallo is a CPA and development manager at The MGHerring Group. Reach him at (972) 448-0200 or visit www.herringgroup.com. Reach the Allen Economic Development Corporation at (972) 727-0250 or www.allentx.com.

Insights Economic Development is brought to you by the Allen Economic Development Corporation, strategically positioned in the Dallas/Fort Worth metro area.

Published in Los Angeles