How Shermco Industries identified the best location to move its operations

Lonnie Mullen, Vice president of operations, Shermco Industries

Businesses cannot overestimate the importance of a well-planned transportation infrastructure. Easy commutes for employees build morale and productivity. Faster response times for mobile service crews produce loyal customers. And gas prices of more than $3 per gallon impact the bottom line.
For Shermco Industries — a thriving company specializing in electrical power system and wind generator repair — proximity to airports, highways, customers, and comfortable and diverse neighborhoods for employees to live in were all keys to its corporate relocation success story.
“Relocating to Irving – Las Colinas provided us with an extensive network of highway systems and transportation options that help us meet and exceed our customers’ expectations for timely arrival, and allow us to attract and keep top talent,” says Lonnie Mullen, vice president of operations for Shermco Industries.
Smart Business
spoke with Mullen about how the thoughtfully planned infrastructure of the Greater Irving – Las Colinas area enticed his growing company to relocate its operations from Dallas.

What factors make Irving – Las Colinas a great place to do business?

The cost of doing business in Irving has a respectable value compared to the surrounding cities, and Texas real estate in general has maintained its value despite the recent downturn. Irving is an established, business friendly city, centrally located in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. More than 10,000 businesses call Irving home, including Fortune 500 companies ExxonMobil, Fluor, Kimberly-Clark, Celanese and Commercial Metals Co.
Irving is regarded highly as one of the top cities for business in the nation and recently was ranked one of the nation’s Top 50 Best Places to Live. Not only is Irving a great place to work and build our company, it’s also one of the best places for our employees to reside and raise their families. Irving had exactly what we were looking for.
We were established in Dallas, a short drive from Irving. In 2000, our success demanded that we move to a bigger facility, and Irving offered the business solution we were looking for with a selection of cost-effective and functional real estate opportunities. We settled on a great building in an ideal location within an industrial complex next door to Frito Lay — one of our customers.

How has the move impacted Shermco’s bottom line growth?

When our customers need us to work on their equipment, they need help right away. Having easy access to Irving’s transportation infrastructure, including several highways, two major airports, commuter rail and the planned light rail service, is a great value to us as well as our customers.
The transportation infrastructure in and around Irving is a very important function for our company. We are an international provider of testing, repair, professional training, maintenance and analysis of rotating apparatus as well as electrical power distribution systems and related equipment for the light, medium and heavy industrial base. A lot of our business is service-oriented, so time truly is money.
Since relocating to the city of Irving, our business has continued to flourish. When we moved to Irving we had 100 employees. Today we have 425 employees, including 280 at our Irving location. We are very proud to be consistently ranked among Dallas’ finest companies by the Dallas Business Journal, which recognized us as a mid-sized company finalist for the publication’s 2010 Best Places to Work. More than 400 companies entered into the survey process, but only 23 mid-sized companies were chosen as finalists.
Another factor driving our growth is Irving’s Economic Development Partnership group. The group is engaged in both the business and governmental sides of our city. It’s extremely helpful in a sense that I’m able to ask the same group of people questions that involve either subject, essentially speeding up the process for our business to make a solid decision. And it gives you a sense of pride to know you have a partner that’s invested and supports your success.

How does the city’s transportation infrastructure help attract top talent?

To be the best you have to attract the best talent. In Irving, we have access to a work force of more than 3.1 million people within a 30-minute commute. Being established in a city like Irving that offers an excellent quality of life, an affordable cost of living and reasonable commutes has allowed us to attract and maintain our valuable employees.
Our employees and their families have access to many culturally diverse activities in and around Irving, including the Irving Arts Center, the Dallas Arts District, Six Flags amusement park, several water parks, and professional sporting venues including the Dallas Cowboys, Mavericks basketball, Stars hockey and Rangers baseball.

What are some of the best-kept secrets of doing business in Irving?

There are none. The city and the Greater Irving – Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce work very hard to make sure there are no secrets. They are truly invested in business and they want all the businesses in Irving to succeed. Come to Irving and you’ll quickly find out the city is very pro-business.
The Greater Irving – Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce comprehensively helps businesses large and small with plans to relocate their headquarters or expand operations to Irving. The Chamber is prepared to guide companies through a comprehensive process including business development strategy, strategic site selection, community demographics, expansion management, location selection, site consulting, corporate real estate management, corporate office relocation, location analysis, corporate site selection, corporate real estate strategy, corporate headquarters relocation, business relocation and corporate relocation management.

Lonnie Mullen is vice president of operations for Shermco Industries. Reach him at (972) 793-5523 or [email protected] 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 Billings Productions has made Allen, Texas, the home of animatronic dinosaurs

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 [email protected] Reach the Allen Economic Development Corporation at (972) 727-0250 or www.allentx.com.

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 opens 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 Watters Creek found the perfect home in Allen, Texas

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 [email protected] 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

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 opens 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 Homeland HealthCare found the perfect home in Allen, Texas

Steve Jones, founder, Homeland HealthCare, for Allen Economic Development Corporation

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 [email protected] Reach the Allen Economic Development Corporation at (972) 727-0250 or www.allentx.com.

How Shermco Industries identified the best location to move its operations

Lonnie Mullen, Vice President of Operations, Shermco Industries

Businesses cannot overestimate the importance of a well-planned transportation infrastructure. Easy commutes for employees build morale and productivity. Faster response times for mobile service crews produce loyal customers. And gas prices circling $4 per gallon impact the bottom line.
For Shermco Industries — a thriving company specializing in electrical power system and wind generator repair — proximity to airports, highways, customers, and comfortable and diverse neighborhoods for employees to live in were all keys to its corporate relocation success story.
“Relocating to Irving – Las Colinas provided us with an extensive network of highway systems and transportation options that help us meet and exceed our customers’ expectations for timely arrival, and allow us to attract and keep top talent,” says Lonnie Mullen, vice president of operations for Shermco Industries.
Smart Business spoke with Mullen about how the thoughtfully planned infrastructure of the Greater Irving — Las Colinas area enticed his growing company to relocate its operations from Dallas.

What factors make Irving — Las Colinas a great place to do business?

The cost of doing business in Irving has a respectable value compared to the surrounding cities, and Texas real estate in general has maintained its value despite the recent downturn. Irving is an established, business friendly city, centrally located in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. More than 10,000 businesses call Irving home, including Fortune 500 companies ExxonMobil, Fluor, Kimberly Clark, Celanese and Commercial Metals.
Irving is regarded highly as one of the top cities for business in the nation, and recently was ranked one of the nation’s Top 50 Best Places to Live. Not only is Irving a great place to work and build our company, it’s also one of the best places for our employees to reside and raise their families. Irving had exactly what we were looking for.
We were established in Dallas, a short drive from Irving. In 2000, our success demanded that we move to a bigger facility, and Irving offered the business solution we were looking for with a selection of cost-effective and functional real estate opportunities. We settled on a great building in an ideal location within an industrial complex where Frito Lay — one of our customers — is also located.

How has the move impacted Shermco’s bottom line growth?

When our customers need us to work on their equipment, they need help right away. Having easy access to Irving’s transportation infrastructure, including several highways, two major airports, commuter rail and the planned light rail service, is a great value to us as well as our customers.
The transportation infrastructure in and around Irving is a very important function for our company. We are an international provider of testing, repair, professional training, maintenance and analysis of rotating apparatus as well as electrical power distribution systems and related equipment for the light, medium, and heavy industrial base. A lot of our business is service-oriented, so time truly is money.
Since relocating to the city of Irving, our business has continued to flourish. When we moved to Irving we had 100 employees. Today we have 425 employees, including 280 at our Irving location. We are very proud to be consistently recognized as one of the Best Places to Work by the Dallas Business Journal. In 2011, Shermco was ranked as one of the best midsize companies to work for in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. This is the fifth year we have been ranked as such.
Another factor driving our growth is Irving’s Economic Development Partnership group. The group is engaged in both the business and governmental sides of our city. It’s extremely helpful in a sense that I’m able to ask the same group of people questions that involve either subject, essentially speeding up the process for our business to make a solid decision. And it gives you a sense of pride to know you have a partner that’s invested and supports your success.

How does the city’s transportation infrastructure help attract top talent?

To be the best you have to attract the best talent. In Irving, we have access to a workforce of more than 3.1 million people within a 30-minute commute. Being established in a city like Irving that offers an excellent quality of life, an affordable cost of living and reasonable commutes has allowed us to attract and maintain our valuable employees.
Our employees and their families have access to many culturally diverse activities in and around Irving, including the Irving Arts Center, the Dallas Arts District, Six Flags amusement park, several water parks, and professional sporting venues including the Dallas Cowboys, Mavericks basketball, Stars hockey and Rangers baseball.

What are some of the best-kept secrets of doing business in Irving?

There are none. The city and the Greater Irving — Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce work very hard to make sure there are no secrets. They are truly invested in business and they want all the businesses in Irving to succeed. Come to Irving and you’ll quickly find out the city is very pro-business.
The Greater Irving — Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce comprehensively helps businesses large and small with plans to relocate their headquarters or expand operations to Irving. The Chamber is prepared to guide companies through a comprehensive process including business development strategy, strategic site selection, community demographics, expansion management, location selection, site consulting, corporate real estate management, corporate office relocation, location analysis, corporate site selection, corporate real estate strategy, corporate headquarters relocation, business relocation, and corporate relocation management.

Lonnie Mullen is vice president of operations, Shermco Industries. Reach him at (972) 793-5523 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

The advantages of relocating your headquarters to a pro-business city

William C. Lucia, President and CEO, HMS Holdings Corp.

It’s no secret that some states are considered to be friendlier business environments than others. But are the advantages really worth uprooting your business’s headquarters and moving to take advantage of some of the tax, work force or cultural benefits?
Smart Business talked with William C. Lucia, CEO and president of HMS Holdings Corp., a company that provides coordination of benefits and program integrity services for health care payors, about his company’s decision to relocate.

HMS announced in July of last year that it was moving its corporate headquarters from New York City to Irving, Texas. What was the primary factor that drove your decision to relocate?

HMS has more than doubled its revenue since 2007 and we required a location that could support this rapid growth. In considering a move of our HMS, Inc. corporate headquarters, we had to determine both short- and long-term cost savings as well as other aspects related to the business climate in a chosen destination. HMS looked at all the different costs involved in running our business over a long period of time and we also factored in things like cost of living, all the different kinds of state and local credits, and money available for training and for building infrastructure. In that respect, and in many other areas of consideration, North Texas and Irving in particular stood apart.

What other factors were weighed in addition to the cost of doing business for HMS as you explored whether to relocate?

We looked at a number of factors that were critical to us. Chief among them were location and accessibility, a pro-business city, work force availability and quality of life. For our company, a location centrally located to serve our national client base with ease of travel from an outstanding international airport was very important. Of course, a company is only as good as its employees and with our rapid growth, we absolutely had to have access to a large skilled labor pool and a very high quality of life that would help our company recruit and retain a strong work force. We were very fortunate to find a pro-business city as well, with a Chamber of Commerce that has been a great resource in guiding us and helping us navigate everything from site selection to securing valuable incentives to the permit process.

Can you talk a little more about what makes a city pro-business?

Absolutely. It was important to us to have our headquarters in a pro-business city that is already home to a number of Fortune 500 global headquarters. We don’t underestimate the importance of a business-focused culture in a city that has the social maturity to assimilate corporate executives into the mainstream of the community and its social circles with opportunities to serve as advocates for economic development. From an infrastructure standpoint, Irving has among the lowest municipal property tax rates in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. And for qualifying new, relocating and expanding companies, the City of Irving offers incentives that can reduce property taxes by 30 percent or more for up to 10 years. To further support qualifying businesses, the city often takes a creative approach to structuring abatements. Incentive agreements can even be structured to allow a higher percentage of benefits early in the abatement period to offset moving and start-up costs. Those are the kinds of things that set Irving apart as being pro-business.

Was HMS able to take advantage of some incentives?

Yes, the state is investing $1.6 million through the Texas Enterprise Fund in our company to help us create 350 new jobs and generate an estimated $17.6 million in capital investment. To have that kind of support from the state as well as the City of Irving was obviously a huge factor in our decision. And the State of Texas is pro-business, exhibited by the significant job growth compared to other states, and is a great location to run a rapidly growing business.

How did your employees respond to the announcement?

We already had a major center in Irving with 500 employees so we had been moving in this direction for a while. It didn’t come as a shock to anyone, but our employees responded with all the questions you might expect: Where will I live? Where will my kids go to school? What can I do for fun when I’m not working? What kind of cultural opportunities are there? Being in Irving, in the heart of Dallas-Fort Worth, we have many great education and housing options as well as entertainment and cultural activities. So our move was overwhelmingly viewed as a positive development by our employees.

What advice would you give a company considering relocating?

My advice is to follow a structured process where you closely examine your company’s overall strategy and the needs of the headquarters operation. List the issues that exist at the current city and identify the opportunities and benefits from being in an ideal location. If at the end of the day it makes sense, don’t be afraid to go for it! HMS is one of many companies that have engaged in a headquarters relocation that has infused new energy, improved market positioning and driven growth and revenue. It’s a challenging initiative, but with a well-structured process, an effective plan and a committed team, the payout can be extremely high.

William C. Lucia is CEO and president of HMS Holdings Corp., which provides coordination of benefits and program integrity services for health care payors. He has more than 20 years of experience in health care reimbursement, information systems and large-scale insurance administration.

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

How The MGHerring Group is putting Allen, Texas, on the map

Matthew Gallo, CPA, The MGHerring Group, for the Allen Economic Development Corporation

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.

Akron invests in biomedical

Over the past 35 years, Akron has successfully transformed itself from the rubber capital of the world into a diversified business climate that supports more than 600 metalworking, electronics, machining, advanced materials (polymers) and biomedical technology companies. In the past six years specifically, the city has devoted a major economic development effort and significant private capital investment towards attracting companies from this last area.

The most recent investment came in 2011, when a new vehicle was created to further attract and create new biomedical company investment in Akron. Akron Bioinvestments Funds LLC was created by the city’s Akron Development Corp. and was funded by private organizations including Medical Mutual, First Energy, Cascade Capital Corp. and Northeast Ohio Medical University. It is a $1.5 million loan fund aimed at providing financial support for the commercialization of high-potential biomedical early-stage companies that are close to market entry.

There are two components of the fund. First, $1.25 million will be dedicated to the Rapid Commercialization Loan Fund, which will include loans in the $100,000 to $250,000 range that are approved based on the merit of the applicant’s business plan and feature low interest rates and flexible repayment schedules. In addition, $250,000 will be dedicated to the Product Development Fund, where grants of $25,000 are awarded based on proof of product concept, market assessment and business plan development.

A major goal of the initiative is quick turnaround time on all funding requests reviewed. This new availability of funding is expected to draw both national and international interest from companies in the biomedical field to Akron in coming years.