Dallas City Hall wants to set a new course for economic development

Dallas officials hope to turn to a private firm to help them come up with a new comprehensive economic development policy.

City officials recommended awarding a $195,000 contract to consulting firm AngelouEconomics to help them develop their strategies. They got the go-ahead Monday from the City Council’s Economic Development and Housing Committee, and the full council is set to vote on the contract in June.

The plan comes on the heels of a new comprehensive housing policy that was based on a market-value analysis of the city’s neighborhoods. The approach for economic development will be similar, and the policy is meant to help city officials decide what Dallas’ niches can be, which industries to target, where to guide them and how to create a competitive environment.

In a memo to council members, Economic Development and Neighborhood Services chief Raquel Favela said the city’s current strategies are out of date and losing relevance.

"Without a strategic plan, we may miss opportunities to target key industries, improve our small business and workforce programs, leverage successful programs for our competitor cities, and receive guidance on the effectiveness of our overall efforts," she wrote.

Approval of the contract in June would mark the first time the city has used an outside consultant to develop an economic development policy. Austin-based AngelouEconomics, which won a competitive bid, has done myriad economic plans and studies for governments, including cities such as Austin, San Angelo and Cincinnati.

City Hall relied on data analysis by the Philadelphia-based consulting firm Reinvestment Fund to help create the housing policy. Favela said she wanted a similar process to come up with the economic development strategies.

AngelouEconomics will also look at whether the city’s economic development department, as structured, is capable of implementing the policy. The consultant did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment Monday.

The economic development policy is scheduled to take four or five months to come to fruition. It would guide the city’s strategies in the city for five years. Favela wrote in her memo that the policy would build on the housing policy and would take into account previous plans, such as the 2011 GrowSouth plan and the Neighborhood Plus initiative.

Along with the housing policy and a prospective transportation policy, the economic development plan is set to be a significant linchpin for City Manager T.C. Broadnax’s administration, which came to City Hall last year. The policy could also shape how council members use $55.4 million in economic development funds from the 2017 bond package.

The high stakes mean the finished product is likely to be picked apart to some degree by council members. Council members and interest groups had scrums over the housing policy before it passed unanimously.

And the city’s past economic development tactics have had both devotees and dissenters on the council. A $3 million deal in 2016 to bring a Costco store to North Dallas, for instance, came after a lengthy and contentious debate. And some of the city’s investments, such as more than $600,000 pumped into downtown’s now-closed Urban Market grocery store, have come up short.

But on Monday, staring at an empty canvas, council members didn’t put up much of a fight after Economic Development Director Courtney Pogue’s presentation on the process.

Council member Rickey Callahan said the plan is "something that’s long overdue" and "is probably necessary" for the city. Lee Kleinman wanted the North Central Texas Council of Governments involved. Kevin Felder wanted to make sure some Dallas universities were included in the stakeholder talks. And Adam McGough wanted more details on the public input process.

Committee Chairman Tennell Atkins said he will look into the consultant’s work in the past before the June vote.

"I don’t want someone to come in and say, ‘Hey, let’s do an economic development policy,’ and they don’t know the lay of the land," he said.

But Atkins, who represents a large swath of southeastern Dallas, said he knows for now what he wants to see for his area: "We need more help. We need more business. We need more high-paying jobs."

"We’ve been waiting for a long time," Atkins said of southern Dallas. "We’ve got to do something now."

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