How TelStrat benefits from relocating its headquarters to Allen

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 [email protected]

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

How to best work with municipalities and other government entities

 

Tommy Gonzalez, city manager, Irving, Texas

Irving, Texas is a recipient of the 2012 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the nation’s highest Presidential honor for performance through innovation, improvement and visionary leadership. Irving is only the second municipality to receive the award in its 25-year history.

City Manager Tommy Gonzalez said Irving has reduced costs by $44 million and improved satisfaction service levels by double digits.

“We reduced our work force by 10 percent without laying anyone off or implementing furloughs and, at the same time, increased benefits,” he says. “We identified numerous efficiencies that resulted in 50,000 labor hours saved. Code enforcement improved by 88 percent, and we dropped the number of days to turn around commercial building permits from 16 to three and a half. These efforts culminated with Irving retaining its AAA bond rating from Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s during a recession, while offering residents and business owners among the lowest tax rates and water fees in North Texas.”

Smart Business spoke with Gonzalez about the way Irving works with businesses and how to apply these lessons.

How should a good relationship between a business owner and the municipality work?

Good communication between the city and business community is important. By having a proactive communication flow, the city gets intelligence on issues business owners are having with city processes. For example, Irving was considering an ordinance that would impact the certification of restaurant servers. Because the city reached out to businesses, it was able to make the ordinance helpful to customer safety but not so onerous to implement. Another example was a state highway project through the middle of Irving where the city and the chamber of commerce coordinated with the state to help businesses relocate and/or work with the department of transportation.

So, both sides need to reach out to each other?

Yes. Irving has 39 different ways to communicate with customers — in this case businesses — like newsletters, our website, Facebook, Twitter, email blasts, etc. If there’s a new project, the city can let others know how it might impact them and keep them in the loop.

What are some of the best ways through government bureaucracy and red tape, including navigating the permit process?

The city made an effort to speed up the permit process because when a business is building a large structure, in order to create several hundred jobs, and in some cases thousands of jobs, you don’t want to hold up the work. Irving’s permitting process now takes three and a half days after eliminating unnecessary steps. Using incentives, Irving built a new culture and a new way of thinking. Another way to minimize the red tape is through surveys. Between random and point of service surveys, done at the departmental level, the city can listen and then change the way it does business. Many times problems or improvements are obvious to business owners, but not to the city.

Aside from letting the municipality know about issues, when business owners show up for permits, bring as much information — plans and documents — as you can. Those that come forward with complete and comprehensive information in hand will get processed quicker.

How can local entities assist employers with state or federal issues? 

Cities can work in cooperation with businesses on some developmental opportunities. In some cases Irving has received federal grants that not only help the public sector but also tie in with private development, especially for environmental issues. The local government also can supplement state or federal services. For example, the state picks up litter along state highways twice a year, but Irving stepped in to pick up litter more often, resulting in a cleaner highway that people assume is safer, which in turn increases the community’s value.

Tommy Gonzalez is city manager of Irving, Texas. Reach him at (972) 721-2521 or [email protected] Visit the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce at www.irvingchamber.com.

Click for the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s profile on Irving — Baldrige: Irving is ‘A Lone Star Model of Fiscal Achievement.’

Insights Economic Development is brought to you by the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce


How Experian found a place to grow in Allen

When Experian arrived in Allen, Texas in 1993, the city was “at the end of U.S. 75 and just starting as a community,” says Russell Tieman, vice president of facilities and administration.

The consumer credit services company has grown along with the city, and last year signed a lease extension to stay through 2025. That came on the heels of a 2010 agreement with the Allen Economic Development Corporation to invest $30 million in facilities in return for incentives totaling $1.5 million over 10 years. As part of the agreement, Experian plans to add 300 employees to boost its workforce in Allen to 1,000, with most being part of the national assistance call center or global technology services team.

“We have a great relationship with the city, and there’s a great, highly educated labor force here,” says Tieman.

Smart Business spoke with Tieman about Experian’s investment and what makes Allen a good location for its business.

What makes Allen a good location?

When Experian originally moved to Allen, there was nothing here. Since then, there’s been so much commercial and retail growth, as well as new housing. It’s been an up and growing suburban community, and Experian tends to be in locations outside of central business districts. For example, the company headquarters is in Costa Mesa, Calif., as opposed to a downtown area. Allen and the surrounding communities have good, safe neighborhoods and an excellent labor force. Quality of life is important and you want to limit commutes.

Did Experian consider other locations before renewing its lease?

Yes, but we conducted an analysis and it made more sense to stay. It was challenging to remodel an occupied space instead of building new. But, although we tested the local real estate market, we never considered looking outside of Allen. In the end, we chose to stay because of our long-standing relationship with the city of Allen and the deal we negotiated with our landlord.

What impact did the Allen Economic Development Corporation have on that decision?

They assisted as much with their customer service as the incentives that they offered. It’s very competitive among local economic development groups in Texas, and Allen works hard to keep and attract companies. They are really great to work with — the whole city, not just the economic development team.

What was involved in the $30 million investment made by Experian?

About $20 million has been put into remodeling in the past few years, with at least $10 million more going toward equipment and other assets. The space was originally built in 1993 with cubicles that had very high walls, and it was very dark and chopped up. The work plan is more colorful and energetic, and builds collaboration. There is a lot of meeting space, video conferencing, game rooms, TV rooms, quiet rooms and amenities that would not have been thought of in 1993. We had been working in a space based on 1993 technology and it was time to invest in the property.

There was surplus space, and the space that was being used is far more efficient with the remodel. The final phase of the second floor was recently finished and received all sorts of accolades. Employees who had worked in the old design have been saying, ‘This is fantastic.’

Would you recommend Allen to companies looking to relocate?

Absolutely, it’s a great community. The Allen Economic Development Corporation is a great group to work with and very helpful. That help would probably be even more beneficial to a company that didn’t already have experience in Allen. Any company should look at the North Dallas metroplex area, particularly Allen.

Russell Tieman is a vice president of facilities and administration at Experian. Reach him at (714) 612-0597 or [email protected]

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

 

 

How an Irving, Texas, business makes the most of its location and city resources

Ryan K. Robinson, President and co-owner, Signal Metal Industries Inc.

In 2012, Chief Executive rated Texas as the No. 1 state for business, while California was the worst. Both states have held their titles for eight years in a row. In the survey, based on 650 CEO responses, Texas earned high marks in business-friendly tax, regulatory environment and work force quality.

Ryan K. Robinson, president and co-owner of Signal Metal Industries Inc., says he couldn’t imagine having his manufacturing business anywhere else. A second-generation company that has been in the area for 40 years, Signal specializes in building heavy equipment and machinery designed to specification.

“Texas is surely one of the most business-friendly states in the Union,” Robinson says. “I think within Texas, the city of Irving is somewhat unique in that 70 percent of Irving’s tax base comes from businesses. So the city of Irving and the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber understand that business is the driver of this community.”

Smart Business spoke with Robinson about why Irving is the best location for them, and how to create a good working relationship between your business and municipal organizations.

Why is Irving, Texas, a good location for your business and others?

First and foremost, Irving is centrally located within the country. My company builds large, heavy products that ship coast to coast and out of the deep water port of Houston Another factor is our great airport — our plant is located within 10 minutes of the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, one of the five busiest airports in the world.

Also, the work force in Irving is great. North Irving is a bit glitzier and is where Las Colinas is located. This, along with our new Orange Line light rail service, gives Irving the sophistication that it needs to be a power player with everyone around the country.

South Irving residents are the blue collar, hard-working folks. Therefore, we have a tremendous pool of qualified workers that we eagerly draw from. It’s a great place to have a manufacturing company, especially if you are located in the southern part of the city along with many other manufacturing companies.

Finally, the city and Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce have a lot to offer any business. In Irving, there are headquarters of Fortune 500 companies, medium-sized companies like Signal Metal and a whole host of the mom-and-pop types. The city and chamber realize the value in all of them and tailor programs for the big guys, the medium guys and the small guys.

In your experience, what makes a good relationship between a manufacturing company like yours and the city or chamber of commerce?

Becoming a member of the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber three years ago created the relationship, but my relationship is somewhat unique — as with all of us here in Irving — because the chamber is the economic development wing of the city of Irving.

Most cities have their own economic development department. The city of Irving does not; it is a partnership between the city and the chamber. That is one of the main reasons why Signal wanted to become a member of the chamber and why I wanted to serve on the board, because it gives me the ability to network with city managers and the mayor of Irving directly because they sit on the same board as I do.

Why is this relationship important?

Once you have a relationship with the city, you understand how the city works. A lot of members in the Irving Chamber are retail companies that sell to the public in Irving, but I don’t have a single customer in Irving. However, you always have to deal with the bureaucracy of the city when you grow — as Signal has in the past five years — and buy property, construct buildings or expand existing facilities.

Since I’ve been involved in the chamber, it’s made things much easier because I know who does what and I have a chance to visit with them. I think that gives me an advantage when it comes to getting through the red tape in a timely fashion.

Signal hasn’t grown because of its membership with the chamber, but the relationship with the chamber has facilitated that growth because the chamber has helped negotiate and make sure everything is in line, whether it be with the fire department, building permits or code enforcement.

Do you have any advice for other business owners about creating a smooth working relationship with city officials or the chamber of commerce?

My advice is to join and get involved. There’s plenty of opportunity to get involved at the Irving Chamber. Your local chamber will welcome you with open arms to serve on a committee or to just take advantage of all the mixers and networking opportunities you get as a member.

Once you get involved in the chamber, you learn more about how the city operates because city officials sit on the board. They talk about the opportunities and the successes of the city. You’re right there in the middle of it. Getting involved gets you plugged in, and then you can take it from there.

Ryan K. Robinson is president and co-owner of Signal Metal Industries Inc. Reach him at (972) 438-1022 or [email protected] Visit the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce at www.irvingchamber.com.

Insights Economic Development is brought to you by Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce

How KONE Inc. found an operations center site in Allen, Texas

When KONE Inc., a global leader in the elevator and escalator industry, was looking to find a place to consolidate operations in 2010, the company came to Allen, Texas.

A 24,263-square-foot facility allowed KONE to combine its North American Supply and Technology operations into one location in the Allen Center Park. KONE also moved its central tool storage facility to nearby Twin Creeks Business Center.

“This new facility will provide KONE’s employees with a high quality work environment and quick access for our colleagues and visitors from around the world to many amenities,” Jeff Montgomery, KONE director of Development-Product and Supply for the Americas, said in announcing the new office space. “By making this move, KONE is showing our commitment to our people and striving to increase productivity and cross-functional collaboration.”

KONE was founded in 1910 in a machine shop in Helsinki, Finland, and now has more than 1,000 offices worldwide, eight global production units and seven global research and development (R&D) centers, including the R&D center in Allen.

KONE has made the Forbes list of the 100 most innovative companies in the world for two consecutive years, ranking 42nd in the 2012 list.

Smart Business spoke with Ron Bagwill, vice president, director of Supply Operations Americas for KONE, about the decision to move to Allen and the benefits of the new site.

What are your operations in Allen?

KONE has two locations in Allen. The first site is in the One Allen Center, 700 Central Expressway South building. On the first floor we have a lab used by our technology group to simulate and test complex elevator control and software systems. On the fourth floor we have our supply chain related functions: engineering, customer service, logistics, human resources, sourcing, quality, and the process owner for our supply chain operations globally. A large part of the global technical team is also housed there (R&D) as well as installation support functions.

The second location is in Allen Twin Creek Business Center on North Watters Road where we maintain and store specialized tools that are important to a safe and efficient elevator installation.

Why was Allen chosen over other location options?

The activities now located in Allen were previously located at a factory site in nearby McKinney, Texas, that had been in operation since the late 1970s. We were looking for a newer building site that offered our employees a great location to work. The Allen location offers our employees easy access to a multitude of nearby shops and restaurants to visit during lunch or after work hours. Since we are near our previous location, our employees have a similar length commute to work. This was important to our decision on where to locate.

One of the most important aspects to our decision to move to the One Allen Center was the capability to house both our office personnel and the lab equipment. The lab equipment required a unique lower floor location with capability to move in and out large pieces of equipment.

Allen is also a great place to live, and we see that as important when trying to recruit new employees to our company.

What role did the Allen Economic Development Corporation play in that decision?

The Allen Economic Development Corporation provided an excellent financial package that definitely was part of the overall decision of why we chose Allen. The AEDC team is very professional and experienced in bringing great businesses to Allen, and KONE is pleased to be one of those companies.

How has the location impacted your success?

The location and environment of an office can have a huge impact on the productivity and morale of an office staff, which has improved since moving to such a great office and city. Having a new and modern office also plays an important role in attracting new employees.

Would you recommend Allen to other companies looking to build or relocate?

Allen is a great place to locate a business. The city has easy access to major highways and the major airports are only 45 minutes away. The number of hotels, restaurants and shops are a great place for housing and entertaining guests or customers. Prospective employees will find Allen a great place to live with the different housing options available, and the great school system. AEDC is a great partner to assist a business when considering Allen.

Ron Bagwill is a vice president, director of Supply Operations Americas, KONE Inc. Reach him at (469) 854-8815 or [email protected]

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

How choosing the right ZIP code could have a major impact on your business

Thom Davis, CIO, Omega Environmental Technologies

There is a reason the saying, “Location, location, location” has persisted in the real estate business.

Take, for example, CIO Thom Davis, of Omega Environmental Technologies, and his wife Grace, founder and CEO. In 2009, they moved their Dallas-based company 10 miles down the road to where they were living in Irving, Texas. They found that relocating to the new ZIP code brought a number of advantages.

“When you have your business in one city and live in another, it’s hard to be as involved as you’d like and still have your full work day,” says Davis.

In addition to improving the personal amenities surrounding them, the couple also tapped in to a host of business perks with the help of the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce.

Smart Business spoke with Davis about what Irving has to offer, why they made the change and how other businesses may benefit from making the move, as well.

What led to the decision to move, and why Irving?

The business needed to double its space, as we’ve been pretty fortunate in our growth over the years. When we looked at where we should move, Irving was our first choice.

There were a number of reasons we picked Irving and one was to get closer to an airport. We manufacture and distribute mobile air conditioning parts for a range of vehicles to 87 countries, so we’re doing a lot of international business, shipping some 25 percent of our products through airlines.

We wanted to improve access in and out of the facility and be easily reached by customers and suppliers. The company is now about six minutes from the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

It also was a good fit culturally. My wife and I had been living in Irving for 12 years and wanted to be more involved in the city’s civic life. Irving is a very diverse city — some 53 languages from 96 countries are taught in the school system — which fits in well with Omega because our 66 employees represent 13 nationalities.

Irving has two paid symphonies, one volunteer symphony, an award-winning musical theatre and many activities that are convenient and inexpensive. And that’s not even looking at the cultural benefits of both nearby Dallas and Fort Worth. Since relocating, 15 of Omega’s 66 employees and their families have moved into Irving.

What aspects of the city have helped your business?

Transportation and location are definitely big assets. There are major north/south highways and east/west thoroughfares that either run right through Irving or are on the edges of the city. One new addition is the light rail, which will be very convenient for foreign guests who are used to train travel, allowing them to visit companies in the area. The leg from downtown Dallas to Irving opened in July; the section that runs from Irving to the airport is under construction and scheduled to open in 2014.

There are plenty of comfortable hotels scattered throughout the city and there’s no price point visitors can’t find. Our customers typically stay for a week and many bring their families because when you’re leaving Brazil or Italy to come to the U.S., you’re not coming for an overnight stay. With Irving’s central location, visitors’ families are easily entertained in downtown Dallas, which is only 15 minutes away, and downtown Fort Worth, which is only 20 minutes away.

Are there any other factors about Irving that makes it a good fit for businesses?

There’s a willingness to help on behalf of the city, aided by the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce, because there’s an understanding of how important business is to Irving. Dallas didn’t offer any incentives when we looked at space still within the city but closer to the airport. With a smaller city — Irving consists of more than 216,000 people — there’s more support from city leaders and staff, and it involves people who are higher on the administrative chain.

Irving has more than 8,500 companies, including the headquarters of five on the Fortune 500 list and a presence of almost 50 more on the Fortune list. It also has more U.S. Chamber Small Business Blue Ribbon Award Winners than any other city in the U.S. It’s a city that spends a lot of time and energy trying to recruit and help the small and large businesses already there.

How has the city helped your business since the move?

There were some incentives that came from the chamber of commerce and the city itself. Since most of our goods are shipped offshore and purchased in the U.S., the city granted us a tax abatement. Irving also designated us as a free trade zone, which means as long as we move products in and out of the city in 90 days, we don’t have to pay personal property tax on those products.

What is your advice to other companies that are considering relocating?

The first thing you need to do is contact the chamber of commerce. Many chambers, such as the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce, are the economic development arms for cities. These chambers have put together programs to help make it a one-stop shop for new businesses coming in.

So instead of having of run all over trying to find this person and that person, the chamber will give you the guidance and help you address any issues, such as obtaining permits.

Thom Davis is chief information officer at Omega Environmental Technologies. Reach him at (972) 812-7099 or [email protected] Visit Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce at www.irvingchamber.com.

Insights Economic Development is brought to you by Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce

How to relocate your business by considering what’s important to you

Carter Holston, General Manager, Real Estate NEC Corporation of America

When a business owner wants to relocate, the task can seem daunting. However, by exploring some key considerations, you can prioritize the move and find a location that works well for your present company and your future growth.

One such location — Irving, Texas — is in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Irving has more than 8,500 businesses that are already operating in the region, including the headquarters of five Fortune 500 companies.

“You need a value-driven proposition,” says Carter Holston, general manager of Real Estate NEC Corporation of America. “You have to have a good location. You have to have a great office space. You have to have access to your employees and pay the right amount of tax, both school and other. All that goes into the mix when you make the decision.”

Smart Business spoke with Holston about what employers need to consider for relocation and why the Greater Irving-Las Colinas area fits that bill.

If a business is thinking of relocating to a new city, what does it need to take into consideration and how does that relate to the Irving area? 

There are three components that any company needs to consider:

  • The work force.
  • How you access the work force, the accessibility to the region, and how you move about via the roadways and mass transit.
  • The business-friendly environment.

Irving is in the center of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, so access to an available work force is not a problem. The area is adjacent to a major airport — the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport — allowing you to get your people in and out of the city in an easy and efficient manner.

The Irving area also has accessibility from the standpoint of mass transit, which is a game changer in business today. The new work force is more mobile and prefers living, working and playing in the same area instead of driving long distances to and from work.

Then there’s the business-friendly environment, which is probably one of the most important factors. Companies need to be in cities that believe in business, that understand the revenue they derive from taxes and what it means to have their citizens employed.

What’s the current state of the commercial real estate market in the Irving area?

Commercial real estate for Irving is on the rise, generally, and Texas, itself, is a good market for companies and corporations to consider relocating to.

Irving has more than 30 million square feet of commercial office space and is the third-largest submarket in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Typically, there is about a 20 percent vacancy rate, but that has been as high as 25 percent, so Irving is a value-driven market.

With 30 million square feet, there are some large blocks of space that are available at affordable rates. Most companies seem to be taken aback at the leasing rates in Dallas compared to other regions.

Irving also has another game changer that just opened in July — a light rail system that runs through the central urban center. That mass transit will affect commercial real estate in a positive way in Irving.

What else makes the North Texas region so attractive?

Texas, in general, and the Dallas region, in particular, are ‘can do’ regions. There’s really no reason for Dallas to be on the map. There’s no geographic reason for Dallas to exist, no great river system. However, the people who settled here on the prairie a long time ago made it work, and that theme and attitude have carried through the years. Even when the oil business was not good, Dallas found a way to diversify and found other industries to attract, such as technology, oil and gas, banking and insurance. Just about every sector of the economy is represented in North Texas, and the Dallas area specifically.

This ‘can do’ attitude holds true for the area’s longevity and its future, which is based on finding a way to get things done.

How can an employer find things such as tax breaks and incentives when moving into a new area?

First, look at what is important to you. There are a variety of tools that each region and city has to offer. The tax breaks, in and of themselves, shouldn’t make the decision for you. The decision to relocate should be based on where you can get a fair deal — where the value deal is found.

That said, for new construction, there are many incentives available, varying greatly by city. You should have a good broker representing you who has access to incentives and knows what has been granted in the past. You should be represented well and compare with past incentives, but don’t let incentives be the only thing that makes up your mind.

The Greater Irving-Las Colinas area is certainly very affordable with available space and incentives, but it’s also a great product in a business-friendly area.

Carter Holston is general manager of Real Estate NEC Corporation of America, where he oversees all domestic commercial real estate functions and is responsible for more than 1 million square feet of leased and owned facilities. In addition, Holston serves as a consultant to the Irving Economic Development Partnership at the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce. Reach him at (214) 262-2190 or [email protected]

Visit the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce at www.irvingchamber.com.

Insights Economic Development is brought to you by Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce

How to relocate your business by considering what’s important to you

Carter Holston, General Manager, Real Estate NEC Corporation of America

When a business owner wants to relocate, the task can seem daunting. However, by exploring some key considerations, you can prioritize the move and find a location that works well for your present company and your future growth.

One such location — Irving, Texas — is in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Irving has more than 8,500 businesses that are already operating in the region, including the headquarters of five Fortune 500 companies.

“You need a value-driven proposition,” says Carter Holston, general manager of Real Estate NEC Corporation of America. “You have to have a good location. You have to have a great office space. You have to have access to your employees and pay the right amount of tax, both school and other. All that goes into the mix when you make the decision.”

Smart Business spoke with Holston about what employers need to consider for relocation and why the Greater Irving-Las Colinas area fits that bill.

If a business is thinking of relocating to a new city, what does it need to take into consideration and how does that relate to the Irving area?

There are three components that any company needs to consider:

  • The work force
  • How you access the work force, the accessibility to the region, and how you move about via the roadways and mass transit
  • The business-friendly environment

Irving is in the center of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, so access to an available work force is not a problem. The area is adjacent to a major airport — the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport — allowing you to get your people in and out of the city in an easy and efficient manner.

The Irving area also has accessibility from the standpoint of mass transit, which is a game changer in business today. The new work force is more mobile and prefers living, working and playing in the same area instead of driving long distances to and from work.

Then there’s the business-friendly environment, which is probably one of the most important factors. Companies need to be in cities that believe in business, that understand the revenue they derive from taxes and what it means to have their citizens employed.

What’s the current state of the commercial real estate market in the Irving area?

Commercial real estate for Irving is on the rise, generally, and Texas, itself, is a good market for companies and corporations to consider relocating to.

Irving has more than 30 million square feet of commercial office space and is the third-largest submarket in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Typically, there is about a 20 percent vacancy rate, but that has been as high as 25 percent, so Irving is a value-driven market.

With 30 million square feet, there are some large blocks of space that are available at affordable rates. Most companies seem to be taken aback at the leasing rates in Dallas compared to other regions.

Irving also has another game changer that just opened in July — a light rail system that runs through the central urban center. That mass transit will affect commercial real estate in a positive way in Irving.

What else makes the North Texas region so attractive?

Texas, in general, and the Dallas region, in particular, are ‘can do’ regions. There’s really no reason for Dallas to be on the map. There’s no geographic reason for Dallas to exist, no great river system. However, the people who settled here on the prairie a long time ago made it work, and that theme and attitude have carried through the years. Even when the oil business was not good, Dallas found a way to diversify and found other industries to attract, such as technology, oil and gas, banking and insurance. Just about every sector of the economy is represented in North Texas, and the Dallas area specifically.

This ‘can do’ attitude holds true for the area’s longevity and its future, which is based on finding a way to get things done.

How can an employer find things such as tax breaks and incentives when moving into a new area?

First, look at what is important to you. There are a variety of tools that each region and city has to offer. The tax breaks, in and of themselves, shouldn’t make the decision for you. The decision to relocate should be based on where you can get a fair deal — where the value deal is found.

That said, for new construction, there are many incentives available, varying greatly by city. You should have a good broker representing you who has access to incentives and knows what has been granted in the past. You should be represented well and compare with past incentives, but don’t let incentives be the only thing that makes up your mind.

The Greater Irving-Las Colinas area is certainly very affordable with available space and incentives, but it’s also a great product in a business-friendly area.

Carter Holston is general manager of Real Estate NEC Corporation of America, where he oversees all domestic commercial real estate functions and is responsible for more than 1 million square feet of leased and owned facilities. In addition, Holston serves as a consultant to the Irving Economic Development Partnership at the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce. Reach him at (214) 262-2190 or [email protected]

Visit the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce at www.irvingchamber.com.

Insights Economic Development is brought to you by Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce

How Allen served as a test market for Cabela’s new design

 

Steve Andognini, General Manager, Cabela’s Allen

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.

How Allen, Texas, has helped Zynga grow and thrive

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 [email protected] 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.