HIGH-TECH MECCA

Electronics leads Dallas growth in the Eighties.

“SILICON PRAIRIE” is the term Ron White uses when he describes Dallas/Fort Worth as a high-tech mecca. Specifically, he’s referring to Richardson close to Texas Instruments and that part of far North Dallas and Piano that stretches west to D/FW airport, including Irving, Coppell and Grapevine.

As vice president of the Dallas Chamber of Commerce Business Development Group until last year, White (during a five-year period) worked with 300 to 400 corporate and industrial site teams that were eyeing the Metroplex with relocations or expansions in mind.

“The most frequent site teams we saw at the chamber were high-technology groups,” says White, now a partner in J.D. Sims & Co., a Dallas real estate development firm. “We also saw a number of fabricated metals groups and a lot of headquarters groups.

“But hardly a week went by when we weren’t getting one or two calls from companies in electronics.” White believes this is Dallas’ primary growth industry of the Eighties.

Time was when electronics -the consumer-type, anyway -simply meant Texas Instruments in Dallas and Tandy Corp. in Fort Worth and a whole lot of “lesser” lights in between. Many people are just now discovering that Ryan Plaza in Arlington has for several years housed the central research and information association for 95 international companies and entities studying robotics and computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM). Since those technologies exploded on the market just last year, we should be hearing a lot more from CAM-I, or Computer Aided Manufacturing International in Arlington.

Softness in semiconductors, of course, has delivered a couple of bruises to Texas Instruments, and National Semiconductor had to scratch plans temporarily for a Grand Prairie facility after putting down the foundation there. But electrical-electronics equipment remains the top labor-force employer among seven primary Metroplex industrial groups, and electronics companies are still opening offices as well as light manufacturing facilities.

Driving through Las Colinas alone, for example, you can see such names as Panasonic, Memorex, U.S. Pioneer Electronics Corp., IBM, Hitachi, Nippon and Polaroid, to name a few. Not far away, United Technologies’ Mostek unit reigns as a strong Carrollton employer; Xerox and TI are fattening the Lewisville economy with relatively recent facilities, and competition remains strong for sites along northern Stemmons Freeway and the westward extension of LBJ Freeway (1-635) to the airport.

“Airport,” of course, is the explanation for why in 1973, the year before D/FW opened, Dallas’ residential and manufacturing growth took a westward turn from its steady march up North Central Expressway.

“You’ve got an airport with immense geographic range that has the capacity to expand its services,” says Ron White. “Only a third of it is completed. Other metropolitan airports don’t have land for expansion, but D/FW has the ability to grow at a relatively safe, relatively unlimited rate. Now that’s what I call capacity. A company moving here looks at moving a $50 million facility to your area, and they want to know about that capacity. An airport like Atlanta’s can only show them 300 acres for future expansion.”

So you bring in your transportation equipment, fabricated metals or nonelectrical machinery operation (three other principals of the Metroplex manufacturing base), plunk it down near the airport where you can rapidly receive or deploy components and people, and begin attracting the amenities your employees expect -like restaurants, light retail, and eventually, housing. People like a certain distance between their homes and their jobs-White calls it the “livability concept”. It’s the reason Las Colinas expects to be a community of 100,000-plus people within this decade. Installation of Town Lake, White says, would give an entirely new idea to the livability of down-town Dallas as a residential center. Mean-while, there’s no reason for the Central Business District to dry up and move to the airport.

“Several years ago, you had a base of several amenities put in place in the Central Business District [CBD]-among them Stemmons, Woodall Rodgers and Central, which were put in at relatively low cost,” White says. “You also had overlapping power and telephone systems and the mass transit system of Dallas with 70-plus routes, all but a few of which go to the CBD. That’s artificial insemination of the labor force into the CBD.

“Downtown Dallas has major banking, insurance and legal firms… all service-oriented … all quartered there for reasons of proximity and walking distance to one another. You need a lot of power and good communications to support those systems. As they become less reliant on big power, big computers, they will spread out. In the future, they could have remote terminals and not be concerned about where they’re located.”

Much has been said and written about how in-home computer terminals and cable communications could lead to the “extended office” or widely dispersed settlement patterns. These machines may be the answer for the stockbroker, the reporter, bookkeeper or any number of other professionals who want to remain in the marketplace, yet also want to stay at home with young children. It is likely that the Dallas/Fort Worth area, one of the four greatest concentrations of high-tech companies in the United States (others are in the Carolinas, Massachusetts and California’s Silicon Valley), will become the subject of numerous case studies on the matter before decade’s end.

There are those, however, who see logistical and tribal sense in keeping people, their jobs and amenities close, albeit uncongested. The Quorum, Prestonwood Mall and Las Colinas have in just the past three years become alternate CBDs, and Dr. John Rees of the University of Texas at Dallas says there are several more: “We are seeing a multiple-nuclei arrangement of industrial centers in several areas that will accommodate business and residential development.”

Ironically, the very sophistication of our communications and computer systems may become another reason why people and companies will in the future locate closer together rather than further apart. Case in point: Two units of United Telecom, working closely with developers of the 90-acre multidevelopment “Texas Plaza” under construction next to Texas Stadium in Irving, are installing an in-building and satellite communications setup that will link 40 U.S. cities by 1984. Everyone in the office/hotel complex will have access to high-speed data and facsimile transmission as well as visual teleconference facilities.

A reason for packaging these communications services in a concentrated officepark environment is that they wouldotherwise be too expensive for individualaccess.

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