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.

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

Carter Holston, General manager of 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 for 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?

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 for 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]com.
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 locating in Allen, Texas, has helped Andrews Distributing Co. consolidate its operations

Mike McGuire, President, Andrews Distributing

Barry Andrews, Chairman and CEO, Andrews Distributing

Joe Jernigan, Chief financial officer, Andrews Distributing

When Barry Andrews started Andrews Distributing Co. at the age of 29 in his hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1976, the company had seven employees and operated out of a 12,000-foot warehouse. That first year, the company sold 276,000 cases of beer, with Miller Brewing as its only supplier.
Fast forward through several acquisitions and an expansion of markets, and today the company serves 26 Texas counties with 1,100 employees and is the eighth-largest distributor in the country by volume — distributing 26 million cases a year — and the sixth-largest by revenue, says Joe Jernigan, chief financial officer of Andrews Distributing.
“We have great employees, great leadership and Barry is the hardest-working individual I’ve ever met,” says Jernigan. “He’s in the office early, he knows every employee by name and he spends time in the warehouse talking to the drivers, checking on the business. We have been very fortunate over the course of the last 16 years and 15 acquisitions to be able to precipitate a large volume growth – although a lot of it was organic, as well – at the right time and with the right people.
Smart Business spoke with Jernigan and with Andrews Distributing President Mike McGuire about how the business has grown and how its new warehouse in Allen, Texas, has aided that growth.

Why is the North Texas market a good place to do business?

We feel like North Texas, and the Dallas/Fort Worth complex are the best market in the country from a growth standpoint. It is projected that in 10 years, it will overtake Chicago as the third-largest metropolitan market in the country. We are well positioned to take advantage of that growth.
From a demographic perspective, the area is adding 160,000 people per year, or about a million every six years. As one of the top growth areas in the U.S., this is the right perfect place for us to be.

How did you settle on Allen, Texas, as the location for your new warehouse?

Our Allen location is a very robust satellite of our business. Before we opened the Allen location last year, we had nine warehouses in North Texas. The No. 1 thing that opening the Allen facility accomplished was that it drastically simplified our warehouse operations, allowing us to go from nine locations to three. That consolidation was 100 percent driven by the Allen facility and the location made it the perfect opportunity to consolidate a number of our northern, very small warehouses.
We had determined that we needed to be on the Highway 75 corridor. Our territory goes out to the Oklahoma line and 125 miles east of I-75. We started looking at a number of locations that were very interested in having us locate our satellite warehouse there. Then the gentleman assisting us in our land search introduced us to the people at the Allen Economic Development Corporation, as well as the mayor, and we established a great relationship with them.
As a result, we ended up making a deal with them and we couldn’t be happier; everything they’ve committed to they’ve followed through on, and we’ve followed through on everything we committed to. Allen is a great business community, a great community in general, and we couldn’t be more delighted with our decision. And as the population continues to spread further north, this is the perfect location for our warehouse.
The North Texas Counsel of Government has said that the junction of I-75 and I-380, three miles north of us, is going to be the epicenter of North Texas in about 15 years, which continues to validate our reason for being in Allen and which we expect will continue to contribute to our growth.
Today, we have well over 300 employees in Allen and expect to quickly grow that to 500 employees. By next year, half of our North Texas volume will be distributed out of that warehouse.

What is your ongoing relationship with the Allen Economic Development Corporation?

We continue to interact with them on an ongoing basis. Along with the land for the warehouse, we bought three tracts of land that were part of the package that we purchased from the city. People are continuing to make unsolicited offers to us on that land, we are working with the city, the mayor and the AEDC to make sure that when we sell, it is to the type of business that Allen wants as part of the community.

How is your new location working out?

We are really passionate about the company and we love the beer business. We love being a part of the community that we serve. North Texas is the best market for us to be in and when you look at what is going on in Allen, it’s an exciting time to be here.

Joe Jernigan is chief financial officer of Andrews Distributing Inc. and Mike McGuire is its president. Reach them at (214) 525-9400.

For more information about relocating to Allen, Texas, visit the Allen Economic Development Corporation at www.allentx.com or call (972) 727-0250.

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

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.