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Dallas needs a new image for new times



For 100 years, Dallas-Fort Worth prospered on an economic platform of domestic oil and gas Texas-owned banks and local real estate development.

The financial meltdown of the mid-to-late ‘80s essentially vaporized all three. Over the past decade, the region’s economy has recovered and migrated to a more diverse base of companies whose trade and commerce are more technologically and internationally based.

During the same time, the world economy and political system underwent a transformation of equally seismic proportions. The past 10 years have seen the formation of the World Trade Organization, the North American Free Trade Area, and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and the European Union. Today, commerce is the primary driver of U.S. relations with other countries.

Within this new global economic context, the Dallas-Fort Worth area finds itself in furious competition with other U.S. and overseas cities on a number of fronts. Unfortunately, we aren’t winning as often as we need to be. In fact, there are several troubling trends that signal potential trouble ahead.

In collaboration with Bain and Co., a major international management consulting firm, the Dallas Council on World Affairs recently completed a two-year study on the region’s strengths and weaknesses as an international city.

The primary finding is that, while Dallas-Fort Worth has many positive attributes, it faces significant, thought not insurmountable, challenges to becoming a world-class, international city in the near-to-medium future.

Dallas-Fort Worth is a vibrant “national” center endowed with a dynamic economy and a significant potential. Yet the region’s limited set of intellectual, cultural and other related civic assets remains an obstacle to attaining “tier one” status in the hierarchy of global urban centers.

The region’s lack of international stature is hindering its growth. For example:

   • In the high-tech sector, area firms report a difficulty in recruiting from out of state and
      overseas due to the greater appeal of the San Francisco Bay area and the Boston area
   • A decade ago, the area was a preferred relocation site for corporate headquarters. Today, it
      is primarily attracting back-office relocations.
   • There has been a major departure of large oil company headquarters – Caltex to Singapore,
      Fina to Houston, and the international headquarters of ARCO from Plano to London. (On the
      other hand, Irving-based Exxon absorbed Virginia-based Mobil.)
   • The Commission for Labor Cooperation, established under a side accord to the North
      American Free Trade Agreement, moved to Washington, D.C. The labor secretaries of the
      United States, Canada and Mexico felt that Dallas was too far “off the beaten path” for the
      commission’s activities

In spite of a strong, well-financed effort, Dallas-Fort Worth was beaten out by Seattle for the World Trade Organization ministerial conference two years ago. In spite of the civil unrest that marked the conference, Seattle is still seen as a place where serious global policy issues are seriously discussed, a distinction which is important to the future of any city aspiring to global prominence.

In comparing the region to other tier-one international cities, Dallas-Fort Worth is given high marks for “quality of life” and “transportation infrastructure.” Yet, it lags in culture and diversity, world-class intellectual assets and image and perception.

The three most important areas to be addressed in any action plan are that the region continue to build toward economic primacy, develop world-class intellectual assets and build a more differentiated brand image. Dallas-Fort Worth has a strong foundation in all three. It is already world-class in telecommunications equipment and biotechnology, Both Southern Methodist University and the University of Texas at Dallas are making tremendous strides in international business and engineering

The committee that is trying to attract the 2012 Summer Olympics to Dallas-Fort Worth will offer a good opportunity for broadening the perception and image of the region. Area leaders and organizations are cooperating to move the initiative forward. Because the economy is increasingly driven by global forces, the initiative is key to the region’s future economic vitality.

Alan Steelman, a former U.S. representative from North Texas, is president of the Dallas Council on World Affairs and president of North America for Maxager Technology Inc.



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