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.

Why partnerships between businesses and school districts create regional economic growth

Dr. Dana T. Bedden, Superintendent of Schools, Irving Independent School District

Dr. Dana T. Bedden is a high-energy educator with more than 18 years of experience in educational administration and leadership. Described as a creative and effective leader, he has demonstrated skills in standards-based education, human resource management, fiscal management and school-community partnerships.

Bedden began his tenure as the Superintendent of Schools for the 34,275-student Irving Independent School District in 2010. Before coming to Irving ISD, Bedden had served as a teacher, athletics director, community and athletic resource administrator, assistant principal, high school principal, regional superintendent and superintendent of schools in Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania and Georgia.

He has been the recipient of several awards and recognitions including the 2009 Dr. Cleveland Sellers Community Service Award and nominee for Georgia Superintendent of the Year. Bedden received his secondary education from Pinellas County Schools in Florida, earned his Bachelor of Science in Exercise & Sport Science from the University of Florida, Master of Education in Educational Administration from Pennsylvania State University, and his Doctorate in Educational Leadership & Policy Studies from Virginia Tech.

Smart Business learned more from Bedden about the involvement of a successful school district in economic development.

How are public school systems and a city’s economic development program closely linked?

A relationship between a school district and a city’s economic development program is key to ensure the success of the city. In our city, the Irving Economic Development Partnership, a partnership between the City of Irving and the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce, helps the city grow in infrastructure, business, quality of life and quality of work force. As the city grows, the community often looks to the local public schools to be the bellwether of many of these initiatives. Likewise, the city’s Economic Development Partnership program makes recruitment and retention of top teaching and administrative talent easier, and helps students understand the rewards that come with educational achievement.

Simply stated, positive economic development and school improvement are mutually beneficial and become self-perpetuating; as schools improve, it becomes easier for a city to increase development and as development increases, it becomes easier for schools to improve.

What are the benefits of having a school district involved in economic development?

When a school district is directly involved in economic development, it has a seat at the table in helping the community develop the vision and goals to be achieved. Having a direct role in economic development also allows schools to provide a firsthand account of a district’s strengths and abilities in supporting community improvement. Quality education is economic development. Business executives often look at the quality of schools when determining where they are going to relocate. Additionally, being an active participant in economic development enables the school district to hear firsthand the needs of the city and business community. That information is useful when schools are trying to connect instruction for real world application and preparation for the work force.

In what ways is a good relationship between the school district and the city government beneficial?

Irving ISD is very fortunate to have a partnership with the City of Irving that is growing and evolving with the changing needs of our students. Our city partners with IISD in various ways, including but not limited to: hosting a citywide school supply drive, mentoring students, participating in career days with speakers, hiring interns in various departments and having Teen Court as an alternative for students in the court system. The City and IISD are now looking for ways to partner that will improve the delivery of services, which will hopefully reduce costs for our taxpayers.

What benefits do corporations have if they are involved in the school district?

If education is one of their fields of interest, getting involved with a local school district will assist them in meeting their community involvement goals to impact youth. By investing time in students, companies are playing a significant role in preparing their future work force, as well. Corporate involvement also provides employees first-hand information about the success and challenges their schools face. Getting employees involved helps reinforce a corporate culture of service to the community, which in turn builds employee morale. By building our students, companies are essentially strengthening our entire community and developing the future work force.

In what ways does a partnership with the community impact your students?

Irving ISD partners with many organizations in the community that provide a variety of support and services. Our partners help provide tutors that work with students, who help them understand and master subject areas that they are struggling with. Caring adults from partner groups mentor students who need someone to assist them with social behavioral development. Additionally, for our secondary students, the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce and their investors help by opening the doors to their businesses and providing career exploration activities, internships and job shadowing experiences to broaden the students’ horizons.

Partnering with the community has helped successfully create Future Leaders of Irving, a program that educates and helps develop our local youth to become future business and civic leaders. Students participate in multiple sessions with topics on government, transportation and infrastructure, non-profit agencies and the private sector. Irving ISD has many great partners who donate books, school supplies, school uniforms and a variety of instructional resources, and implement incentives that recognize student achievement.

Dr. Dana T. Bedden is the Superintendent of Schools for the Irving Independent School District.

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

How Hydrous Wake Park found the perfect home in Allen, Texas

Hydrous Wake Park, Allen, Texas

When Victor Toledo and his partner, Chad Lacerte, were looking for a location for their new wake board park, they approached nearly a dozen cities looking for the right spot.

But once they met with members of the Allen Economic Development Corp. and spoke with representatives of the city of Allen, Texas, they knew they had found the perfect location, says Toledo.

“We talked to several north Texas cities at the same time, and they were all very receptive to the concept,” says Toledo. “But what Allen did differently is that they really stepped up and said, ‘Not only do we like it and want it, we’ve even got a place for it, and we can help you through the approval process.’”

The pair presented the concept rendering for Hydrous Wake Park to the city in January 2011, began construction in April and opened in September. Although there are 230 cable parks around the work, Hydrous is one of only 13 in the U.S., and the only one in America with three cable systems. And after just four months of operation, it was named 2011 Cable Park of the Year by Unleashed magazine, an international wake boarding publication based in France.

“Looking at the success of these parks around world, we thought bringing the concept to a healthy, vibrant market like Allen, especially because it’s in the Sunbelt, would be a good match, as the city is very youth oriented and very sports oriented,” says Toledo. “We really drew on the European parks in our design and strategy to create a ski resort type atmosphere in the middle of the city.”

Smart Business spoke with Toledo about the new business, and how the Allen Economic Development Corp. has been key to its early success.

What part did the Allen Economic Development Corp. and its members play in your decision to locate in Allen?

They have been very accommodating. They have really been a true partner throughout the whole process. Hydrous is located in a city park, nestled between a skate board park and the high school, which has 5,200 students, just opened a $30 million performing arts center and is completing a $60 million high school football stadium. Allen is a city that really cares about culture, sports, recreation and education, and it has done a tremendous job.

We approached several cities at the same time, and Allen was one of them. They saw an opportunity, they saw the presentation, and they immediately set up a meeting for us with the Parks Department and the city manager’s office, and they really helped us expedite the process.

Once things were set in motion, how did the city and the economic development corporation continue to assist you?

We have an ongoing relationship with the city because they are our landlord; we rent space from them. The Allen Economic Development Corp. was our liaison with the city, and they helped us secure a long-term lease on the property at a nominal cost. The fact that we didn’t have to invest any capital up front for the land made Allen a very attractive option for us, allowing us to focus our investment on the building, digging the lakes, digging the well and building a pro shop. We didn’t have to invest anything for the land, and without that incentive, we probably wouldn’t be here.

The city and the economic development corporation are also our marketing partners. One thing that’s attractive about this venue is that it’s a regional draw, and we get a number of visitors from foreign countries. We estimate that less than 10 percent of the people who wakeboard here actually live in Allen.

How has the city assisted you with water concerns?

There was a drought last summer, so as we were digging the two lakes, the city also allowed us to dig a 1,200-foot well so that we would have our own dedicated water source that was not subject to drought restrictions. That’s a big up-front cost, but we now don’t have a water bill.

The city didn’t want us to compete with its existing water resources and was able to accommodate us. And quite frankly, we couldn’t have competed with the existing water resources because of the drought restrictions.

How did your fall opening help you get up and running?

We really would have much rather opened in March at the start of the busy season, but the way it worked out, we signed the lease in January, got engineering approval in March, broke ground and finished by September, which was a pretty ambitious timetable.

So rather than wait until March to open, we decided we wouldn’t open the restaurant until then but we would at least get our feet wet and get some experience under our belts. That way, in March, we are ready to really show our best because we already have five months’ experience running the park.

We had time to make sure we had made good personnel decisions and marketing decisions, rather than just opening in a whirlwind with a brand new staff. And we’re feeling pretty good about our decisions right now.

Would you recommend that other businesses consider locating in Allen?

Absolutely. The economic development council and the city have been tremendous partners. They have a very pro-business attitude and they care about their city. They are very aggressive about attracting the right type of businesses and diversifying their tax base. And in our case, they also provided an amenity that Allen’s residents previously didn’t have — a lake. There was no boating culture here at all, and now Allen has become the wake boarding go-to spot in the country with wakeboarding videos regularly shown around the world.

Victor Toledo is co-owner of Hydrous Wake Park in Allen, Texas. Reach him at (214) 755-9905 or [email protected] Reach the Allen Economic Development Corp. 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.

How a city government can create a thriving, business-friendly region

Tommy Gonzalez, City Manager, City of Irving

Tommy Gonzalez is city manager for the City of Irving, a city with a strategic plan to guide its future through growth and development. He has served as city manager since May 2006, and is responsible for the city’s overall activities and operations, including a $726 million budget and a staff of more than 1,800 city employees.

Under Gonzalez’s leadership, the City of Irving was the first city in Texas to receive the coveted Texas Award for Performance Excellence, an award whose criteria and process are modeled after the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, recognizing Irving for performance excellence and applied outstanding quality principles in day-to-day operations. Before coming to Irving, Gonzalez was one of four assistant city managers for the City of Dallas, where he was in charge of the efficiency team, equipment and building services, human resources/risk management/safety, and Office of Environmental Quality. He was also liaison to the Civil Service Department.

Smart Business spoke to Gonzalez about his expertise in running a city like a corporation to create an ideal environment for businesses and residents.

Considering your extensive experience with multiple municipalities, including some of the largest communities in North Texas, what are the factors you believe contribute to a pro-business atmosphere?

The foundation of any city’s economic strength is its ability to cultivate and bring new businesses to the market and then engage these businesses in the community. A city’s best way to cultivate this environment is through a strategic partnership with the local chamber of commerce to provide results-oriented business recruitment and relocation.

It’s also in the city’s best interest to adopt the same basic business principles that apply to a well-run corporation. Just like businesses, cities have to work hard to streamline and eliminate cumbersome processes in order to run efficiently. They must also adopt a customer service philosophy that supports their needs. In Irving, we have adopted techniques such as Lean Six Sigma, which have resulted in a 75 percent reduction in commercial building plan review cycle times. Additionally, Irving reduced turnaround within its planning and inspections department, which now provides courtesy site visits to assist business owners and residents with code interpretation, site plan guidance, sign variance assistance and zoning change requests. With streamlined and improved processes, our city can now enable a Fortune 500 company to purchase land, build and open its offices in less than nine months, as it did with Fluor Corporation’s relocation from California to Irving.

How do you believe a city is similar to a corporation?

Cities and corporations have many similarities. Our city has a city council that serves as its board of directors, and it has a city manager whose role is analogous to a corporate CEO. The city council creates policies and a strategic plan, which includes the city’s long-term goals. The city manager, like the CEO of a corporation, carries out the council’s policies and manages the day-to-day operations of the city. The city’s sole purpose, which is dictated by the strategic plan, is to provide high-quality services to the residents, visitors and businesses in the most cost-effective way — just as large corporations do for their customers.

What factors contribute to a city’s growth, and how does that happen in a down economy?

A central location, easy accessibility and a solid infrastructure are three major reasons businesses and residents will choose one city over another. Major highways that link communities provide employers with access to a highly trained work force and enable them to easily transport their products. Having these benefits, in addition to our strategic partnership with the Greater Irving- Las Colinas Chamber, is definitely an advantage over other cities.

Irving’s increased growth during a challenging economy can also be attributed to strategic planning and efficient management of the city’s budget. For example, the City of Irving disaggregated from a 30-plus member organization in order to save money on electricity. By negotiating a better deal, the city saved $18 million by changing its processes based on the Lean Six Sigma philosophy. Managing this budget means much more than collecting taxes, putting money in the bank, and writing checks for goods and services. Cities must have specific, attainable goals and accountability for achieving those goals in order to successfully maximize their resources. In doing so, a city has the opportunity to increase productivity while maintaining low taxes and fees, and delivering exceptional public services.

What role do tax advantages and incentives play in city growth?

Incentives are one of our most effective economic development tools. In many cases, these tax incentives, also known as abatements, are offered to relocating or expanding businesses. By offering abatements, cities are able to increase new construction and capital investment in targeted areas to create more economic opportunities for their residents and businesses.

Tommy Gonzalez is city manager for the City of Irving.

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


How Greenling is helping Allen, Texas, become a local food hub

Mason Arnold, Founder, Greenling

After six successful years in Austin, Greenling is expanding to the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, choosing Allen, Texas, as the hub of its activities.

Greenling, which home-delivers local food, organic produce and groceries, last year delivered 20,369 local boxes — about 142,583 pounds worth of food — in Central Texas. It also delivered another 20,000 pounds sold individually on the site, says Mason Arnold, founder of Greenling.

“Greenling was founded squarely around sustainability,” says Arnold. “We do local and sustainably produced or certified organic food and home delivery of groceries. Anything we can get local, we do; otherwise, we get it from certified organic farms. From that, we’ve created a new distribution model for local food that gets it from farm to table fresher and faster than anyone else can.”

Smart Business spoke with Arnold about how his business is changing the way people eat and why he chose Allen as a base for his Dallas/Fort Worth operations.

What inspired your business?

I graduated from the University of Texas with a chemical engineering degree and went to work at an environmental consulting firm. I was seeing firsthand what was happening to the environment, and it made me sick. As I learned more, I became more passionate about needing to do something to help the environment. I started an environmentally responsible landscaping business and, as I grew that and learned more about sustainability, I felt I wasn’t really being a change agent.

I felt like the biggest challenges were water, energy and food, and food was at the center of everything; it uses more potable water than all other human consumption combined and more fossil fuel than anything other than our cars. I thought that if we can fix the food system, so many other things will take care of themselves.

So I got together with some college friends and started researching the food system. Once we saw how broken it was, we decided to try to find a better way to get food around and founded Greenling. But there were a lot of expensive lessons early on about how to move food around.

Produce in Texas is somewhat limited, but we have yet to have any problems fulfilling orders. However, we’re working hard to help grow the system and farmers are very much interested and willing to ramp up their production because they know the demand is there and that we’re helping them to bridge that gap.

Why did you choose Allen when you decided to expand to the Dallas/Fort Worth area?

Our model is locally focused, and we can serve up to a 100-mile radius. So when we were looking to expand here, we chose Allen because of what the city of Allen is trying to do as a local food hub and because we can serve the entire Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex from this location.

When we decided coming to Dallas, we started talking with different chambers of commerce in the area. I knew some people who had already been working with the city and who told me how much Allen wanted to do with local food. The city had already bought a plot of land that they’re turning into an educational farm.

I spoke with a city councilman who told me Allen wanted to be the center of local food for the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. We told them that if they wanted to be the center that they really needed a company that does distribution, because a company like Greenling spurs a lot of activity around us. Producers want to locate near us because it makes it easier and more convenient for them to distribute their product.

We also had some conversations with the Allen Economic Development Corporation about what Greenling does to build local food systems, and they got excited and said they really wanted to support us and wanted us to help them develop Allen as a local food hub.

How did the Allen Economic Development Corporation facilitate your expansion to Allen?

They really helped us on several different fronts. They introduced us around and helped us understand the different community sectors in this area. They also provided economic incentives to help us build a local food hub in Allen and create a warehouse where the food will go and where the baskets of produce and food will be assembled.

But we’re also going to create 100 jobs in the next two to four years, with warehouse workers and drivers, and administrative and support staff, so that was exciting for them, as well. We are also investing in almost $1 million of infrastructure in Allen, from which we can serve the entire Dallas/Fort Worth area.

Do you have plans to expand to other areas?

We think this model plays an important role in helping build local food systems and think that, economically, it can thrive in any community with a quarter million people or more. As a result, we fully intend to replicate this model as many times as we can across the U.S.

The other benefit to communities in which we locate is that, as we have grown, we’ve learned that we end up being the No. 1 preferred sales channel from our farmers because we provide consistent demand, we’re not beholden to weather as they are with farmers markets, we place large orders, we are one stop for them, and we are super flexible with receiving, whereas with grocery stores, you have to deliver in a certain window, which is usually the best time for farming.

As a result, we end up getting the highest quality products and the best prices, and we’re still able to give farmers a fair price because we’re working directly with the consumers. Local farmers end up really loving us, and we love that we can help them in that way.

Mason Arnold is founder of Greenling. Reach him at (512) 440-8449 or visit www.greenling.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.

Making a move: How to determine the right location for your business

Rick Hughes, Executive Director, Cushman & Wakefield of Texas Inc.

Finding a new location for your business isn’t as simple as picking out a nice building and moving in. There are many factors that go into the decision, and working with a professional can help ensure that you take advantage of all that a location has to offer, says Rick Hughes, executive director, Cushman & Wakefield of Texas Inc., who recently worked with Allen Economic Development Corp. to locate one of his clients to Allen, Texas.

“A commercial real estate professional is very valuable in locating the right place to operate your business,” says Hughes. “The demographics of an area, where employees are located, logistics, right to work issues, workers’ compensation obligations, unemployment insurance costs and other issues all come into play. It is significantly more complicated than saying, ‘This city looks like a nice place to run a business.’”

Smart Business spoke with Hughes about how to find the right location for your business, and why Allen may be a great choice.

What are the benefits of being located in Allen?

In the Dallas area, professional and college-educated populations are generally north of downtown, with cities that have good school systems and that are very attractive places to be and to raise a family.  Good schools, good fire and police support, and cost effective living are some of the attributes that make Allen attractive.

The city also has a number of corporate headquarters, which businesses can potentially use to their advantage.

What should a business owner look at when trying to determine a new location?

One important thing is the availability of certain kinds of labor. What is the profile of labor? What kinds of businesses do well in that area? Where are those people working? Where do they live? Look at the demographics and determine whether the available labor pool will meet your needs.

What else should a business consider?

If you are a manufacturer, for example, and are making something that needs to be distributed efficiently, you don’t want to be in a congested area. But you do want to be close to the Interstate highway system, so there are logistics to consider.

Also look at where ‘the Boss’ lives. A company will always say that is not a factor, but invariably, the chosen location is closer to his or her home than to those of other employees, so consider where the management team lives or wants to live.

The quality of schools is also a factor. A business wants its employees to live close to work, and schools are a part of that. If an employee has to leave work to go to the school, you don’t want them to have to drive an hour each way.

Some businesses are also sensitive to the company’s address. They want a corporate address, and they want it to be in a particular city. But for the most part, the labor profile, the location of the management team and what kind of building the company wants to be in are key.

How can an outside adviser help a business make the right choice and take advantage of available incentives?

The adviser can act as an insulator in negotiations. If a company is acting on its own and meets with a city, and the city offers it $500,000 to move there, that may sound like a good offer. But if you have that go-between, he or she can bring the offer back and the company doesn’t have to respond on the spot.

An experienced adviser can also tell you how each potential city is going to respond to each opportunity. That person knows which cities are looking for high-paying jobs, and which are not as interested in the quality of jobs as they are the number of jobs. Some are more interested in the capital and infrastructure commitment a company is going to make. For example, the city of Allen in very keen on having corporate headquarters move to the city, and an adviser will know that and can help you leverage that.

How can an economic development corporation assist a company in determining where to move?

A company and its adviser can send out a profile. “Here is the capital investment that we are prepared to spend if we move to your city. Here are the number of employees and jobs that we are going to bring to your city. Here are the wages and benefits of these jobs, aggregated.” Then ask what the economic development corporation can do to help mitigate your costs. For example, it might say, ‘If you move here, we will offer property tax abatement on your real and personal property, or we will give you a grant of $500,000, paid out over two years, if you commit to move.’

After you’ve looked at the proposals, then look at available real estate to see if there is a building in that city that works for this company. Look at the incentives and determine if they help mitigate the costs of moving. Look at the demographics to see if it is a place where not only do your employees live, or would want to live, but at whether the profile demographic contains the kinds of people you will want to hire.

What is the state of incentives, given today’s economy?

In some instances, states are taking economic incentive funds and moving them into budgetary items. Other states, such as Texas, understand that, long term, in these economic times, when there is huge budgetary pressure at the state level, that states need jobs more than ever. They are investing in jobs, as opposed to taking money away from attracting and recruiting jobs, and adding money to economic development. Those are the states that businesses are going to want be in because they are investing in the future.

States that aren’t doing so are being very short-sighted by reducing the funds they have in their tool chest to attract businesses.

Rick Hughes is executive director at Cushman & Wakefield of Texas Inc. Reach him at (972) 663-9601 or [email protected]

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