Development Through Entrepreneurship

The City of Dallas and its community partners created SourceLinkDallas to support the economic development goals of the City. Those goals were set out in 2005 when the City Council adopted the Strategic Engagement plan. That plan, the product of a citizen-led task force of business, educational and community leaders, recognized a new development reality. They concluded that Dallas was no longer the Sunbelt boom town of the 70s and 80s. It was a maturing central city with a diverse population with too many not prepared to participate in the modern, technology and service-based economy. The city could no longer annex the growing edge of development in the area so it would have to focus on redevelopment. The plan identified Dallas’ key assets as the starting point for redevelopment.

Since then, the same key assets have provided the tailwind to focused development initiatives. Five major assets are worth calling out. First, the city benefits from an ideal location at the heart of North America. It has access to all major continental markets. Second, Dallas has a large, talented workforce. The regional labor market has the largest number of technology jobs in Texas and hundreds of thousands of other professional, medical and creative workers. Third, Dallas has the full compliment of urban amenities: a regional rail system, quality hospitals, cultural facilities and parks. Fourth, Dallas has the second lowest cost of living of the ten largest U.S. metro areas. Finally, Dallas has an open and welcoming business culture. Many business owners who relocate here marvel at the willingness of the established business community to open doors for newcomers. These were and are the basis for a new economy in Dallas.

Two primary goals were identified in Strategic Engagement. First, Dallas would build on its strengths to become the leading urban center of the southwest. Second it would capitalize on its under-developed land and overlooked communities in southern Dallas to rebuild the tax base and create jobs. The City’s infrastructure, development incentives and planning policy were retooled around those two goals. The results are a changed city from the one that emerged from the dotcom crash in 2000. Tens of thousands of new housing units were built in and near downtown, thriving industrial parks have been created in southern Dallas. Recreational and cultural investments have helped create an environment that is attractive to young, educated residents. In turn, major corporations began relocating back into the downtown area. Dallas was in a good position when the economy changed again after the housing bubble burst.

Because of our business attractiveness and relatively easy regulatory requirements Dallas didn’t experience a crippling real estate bubble. The city experienced a much milder recession than most of its peers. However, there was a new economic landscape. Since the financial crisis in 2007, large-scale development and business ventures have become harder to finance. Funding for business expansion was cut at all levels. Even policies by the Federal Reserve and the Treasury to push liquidity and keep interest rates low couldn’t encourage banks to resume robust lending. To the point that a lot of those older investments were questionable, and were for projects that had no hope of being sustainable, it is a good thing to not go back to that economy.

At the same time, cities and nations globally struggle to put stranded resources and unemployed people back to work. Big businesses in more productive sectors of the economy are hiring far fewer workers in this recovery. Communities are now turning to small business and entrepreneurship as a way forward. Perhaps hundreds of small business successes can make up for the lack of big projects. Many groups in Dallas are working on the task of improving the opportunities for local entrepreneurs. There are hundreds of service providers and many network-type organizations. SourceLinkDallas is the City’s effort to engage this ecosystem and to promote micro business access to the resources already available.

SourceLinkDallas is an appropriate role for the City to lead, but as mentioned a couple of weeks ago, it is a community effort. The City cannot effectively be a direct service provider to small business. It is not a lender or a trainer or a business mentoring organization. By focusing on the basics like public safety and infrastructure Dallas makes it easier and more productive for businesses to open in the city. Growing the police force and making billions of investments in roads, flood control and recreational facilities have made Dallas more livable. Now, SourceLinkDallas is a way to be proactive without getting into the business of directly serving entrepreneurs. Dallas can provide information, help coordinate across the entrepreneurial ecosystem and be a cheerleader for entrepreneurs and small businesses.

Our vision is that Dallas entrepreneurs have fast, easy access to the most responsive and effective entrepreneurial support community in America so that businesses start sooner, grow faster and survive longer and so that entrepreneurship becomes an assumed solution for innovation, value creation and individual opportunity.

This vision reflects our understanding that nurturing the overall support system for small business is where SourceLinkDallas can play a part. That support system includes regulations, infrastructure, mentoring, training programs, funding, networking, etc. It is not about building programs that will favor a few, but about building capacity in the community to help any entrepreneur or venture-minded person with a vision.

The second element of our vision is that more people in Dallas start to think about entrepreneurial solutions to the problems of livelihood, innovation, culture and social development. Just as the new economy makes it harder for big development projects, governments must be more focused. Their resources will concentrate on providing basic services. Collaboration, networking, planning and coordinating are relatively low-cost ways for the City to support development, especially entrepreneurship-based development. It may be that hundreds of small initiatives, projects and businesses can pick up the slack left by the unrealized big projects.

SourceLinkDallas has already begun promoting dozens of organizations and resources to the small business community. If you have a nonprofit business-related organization or are in a government agency that supports businesses we want to include you in our network. You can register on this website. Next week we will take a look at some of the market opportunities for small businesses and entrepreneurs in the new economy.