2 min read March 2022 — A strong focus on helping small businesses to overcome the pandemic challenges is paying off for the City of Fort Worth. Mayor Mattie Parker spoke with Invest: and explained how the city invested 34% of the CARES Act money directly in small businesses. She also provided her outlook for the city. “It’s exciting. So many things are driving our success,” she said.
What programs and initiatives have been the most effective in rebuilding the economy?
The CARES Act funding allocated to the City of Fort Worth totaled $158 million and $55 million, or 34%, went directly to small businesses grants through an initiative called Preserve the Fort. I don’t think any other city in Texas spent nearly that high a percentage of their money to focus on small-business growth and expansion, saving them. That was a choice we made and that tradition has continued. We have also used about $3 million of our ARPA dollars to become a CDFI Friendly America city, creating a new capitalization opportunity for businesses and nonprofits here in our community.
Those are just two good examples of how we’ve used our funds. Importantly, we also focused on the systems in place that support a thriving economy, like early childhood education and access, which has been a huge issue, especially for the female workforce and those who have left the workforce involuntarily because of access to quality childcare. We all know how that industry was impacted during COVID and we’ve used about $7 million in ARPA funding to support the infrastructure behind childcare, which we know will help our low-income workforce especially.
What business sectors are you looking to continue to grow?
I think DFW is the third-largest area for tech jobs in the country, behind Austin and Silicon Valley. But one thing I’m excited about is our Mobility Innovation Zone which is going to focus on innovation and technology specifically around mobility and how that’s going to impact the economy moving forward. It is focused on things like autonomous vehicles, drone technology and air taxis. That industry is exploding right now and we want to be at the forefront.
We continue to be a top defense manufacturing and contractor hub and those industries continue to evolve and change. The F35 is built here in Fort Worth by Lockheed Martin Aeronautics. We also have Bell, formerly Bell Helicopter, which has an excellent reputation internationally.
Biotech also continues to grow and expand here in Fort Worth and the iter8 Health Innovation Community. A variety of companies are located here and there’s more to come from that.
What challenges do you need to tackle as more people continue to relocate to the Fort Worth region?
Public safety and mobility are the top priorities. With more people comes greater responsibility for public safety, mobility concerns, trash pick-up and all the fundamentals of a well-run city. We have an excellent city management team that is focused on some of these key issues, but, because we’re fast-growing, those are some priorities we must focus on across our community. We’re doing a great job. There’s no bad news story to tell there, but you just must stay vigilant.
What is the next step for Fort Worth in terms of affordable housing?
I think we’re fortunate in that we have a variety of wonderful for-profit and nonprofit partners that work in the affordable housing space. The spectrum of affordable housing starts with access to housing for those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. We have a wonderful organization called the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition that is focused on that issue through supportive housing and other avenues. We also have mixed-income models, with some permanent supportive housing units, housing units for lower-income and then full market rate housing. Lastly, we’re working with developers to provide incentives in exchange for building affordable housing components in their developments here. We must be thinking about that more broadly.
Another housing solution that has done some incredibly innovative work across Fort Worth is called Rental Assistance Demonstration, or RAD. We went through this process over the last 10 years. It was a HUD program where we took traditional large public housing communities, moved those residents out of those units and dispersed them across the city into high-quality housing. We’re redeveloping those traditional public housing areas into newly redeveloped areas. It has the real potential to be a game-changer in the area.
How are you working to keep local graduates in the Fort Worth region and to meet the workforce needs of the future?
We want to focus on grooming the next generation of leaders who are right here in our Fort Worth schools. The biggest partner we have in that success is Tarrant County Community College (TCC). They’re a phenomenally cutting-edge community college system. We’re launching an effort to focus on workforce development and education with TCC to ensure our high-school graduates have a skill set before they graduate. A high-school diploma is no longer enough, and we know that better than anybody in North Texas. About 70% of the jobs in North Texas by 2036 will require some type of postsecondary credential. That’s a two-year or four-year degree.
We need to get around the idea that you have to go to a four-year college. That’s just simply not true. And for many students, that’s not the best choice. The question is how to develop a career path that provides a living wage and a strong job that will keep people here in North Texas? We’re thinking about that holistically in our K-12 system.
What is your outlook for the city of Fort Worth for the near term?
I’m very bullish on Fort Worth. We’re positioned for greatness. I think you’re going to see us take off in a variety of different ways. For a long time, we hovered at around half a million people and were maybe a sleepier city. Now, all of a sudden, people are asking where is Fort Worth? What’s going on in this city? It’s exciting. So many things are driving our success.
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