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

8:01pm EDT January 31, 2012
How a city government can create a thriving, business-friendly region

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