THE PRESIDENT OF A RICHARDSON COM-puter company told me the story of the one that got away. He had been recruiting this guy for months, had finally arrived at a compensation package worth millions of dollars if the company performed, and now the prospect was in town to cross the t’s and dot the i’s. After days of wining, dining and house-hunting, the prospect and his wife were sent out to explore Dallas/Fort Worth on their own.
“Big mistake,” the CEO now says. “They got on a plane at 7 o’clock the next morning and never came back.”
The problem? “They drove around downtown Dallas at night, and they hated it. They hated it a lot.”
Let’s be blunt. Dallas is a business city. In most places, geography created opportunity. All other large American cities are built around harbors and major waterways. Here, opportunity forced itself on an uncooperative geography. We had cotton, then we had railroads, then we had oil. Today, we have an airport smack dab in the middle of the world’s greatest economic power. Opportunity is still ours, but only if we grasp it.
Today’s Dallas won’t be built on cotton or oil. It will be built on talent. To attract and keep talent in a competitive world, it takes more than good pay and stock options. A competitive city has a good mix of educational choices, a rich cultural environment, entertainment options-and most of all, it has a vibrant, lively downtown that serves as a catalyst for creativity and commerce.
Pictures of our downtown skyline adorn office walls and are emblazoned on our visitors’ guides. Our skyline symbolizes our city. But on the street level, the picture is not as pretty. Our downtown is a spectacular asset that has been allowed to go to seed.
This asset could produce huge returns, adding more than $60 million a year to the city’s tax rolls. Thai is money that could go to training our teachers, refurbishing our neighborhoods, repairing sewers and fixing potholes.
And as important as these are, downtown is also an asset that could aid us in attracting the best and brightest to join us in making Dallas the envy of America.
Ray Nasher’s extraordinary gift of his world-renown sculpture collection is only a first step. Next up is Ross Perot Jr.’s proposal for a new downtown development spurred by a new arena. Both represent a historic opportunity. Up to now, the arts dis-trict has been a fairly lifeless place; Nasher’s sculpture garden will fill it with great work and large crowds. Up to now, efforts to create downtown living have been small and spotty; Perot’s development could fill the streets with new residents and stores to service them. If any moment should galvinize our business community into action, this is it. As the old hymn triumphantly declares, “This is the hour.”