Thursday, January 15, 2009

Who Loses While Dallas Delays?

The question of 'equity' has come up in discussions of the International Inland Port of Dallas (IIPOD, still another acronym by which the port is known).

To the degree that anyone has figured out what this means, it is generally accepted that equity is the ability of minorities to have shares in a venture, or in the company initiating the venture.'How many minority partners are associated with this firm', is a fair question. But this type of 'equity' requires capital. Capital is usually a problem with minorities. And an equity stake in a company like the Allen Group, or a project like the logistics hub, calls for cash and quite a bit of it.

That's important because this is a very serious economic development opportunity. While it is proper to make sure that percentages of contracts and business opportunities related to trade and distribution, equitable stakes in the business venture itself, means coming to the table qualified with capital. To whatever degree its happened in the past, this calls for something more authentic than 'straw' partnerships. Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, whose District 30 includes the area in which the logistics hub is located, told me, "I don't have a problem asking businesses coming into the community to be a part of it, and to support activities and that sort of thing. And I don't have a problem with them asking for them to be included, in some of the work. The question is whether or not we should insist upon them being arbitrarily included without income...we've lost so many good projects from having that kind of obstacle in front of these companies. Nothing is going to help our area until something is in that area to draw people and interest and investment."

But to be honest, the inland port can be something of a cash cow for the area. Trade and distribution businesses make up about 20.4% of the Dallas commerce. Employment opportunities, directly or indirectly related to businesses connected to a logistics hub (including transportation, material moving, building and ground maintenance, but also including protection services, and computer support just to name a few) range from anywhere between almost $10 to $21 per hour.

Millionaire businessmen and women with the capacity to invest in something like the Dallas Logistics Hub, mean a great deal to the southern Dallas economy. There are minority members of Dallas' millionaires club. I hope they step up and I hope they make lots and lots of money. But I am more concerned about those in this current economy who have lost good paying jobs. Who have to put food on the table for their children, or who have mortgages and rent to pay. They pay taxes, put children through school, attend churches, buy groceries and all the things that make our economy hung. Lifting people out of poverty and strengthening communities begin with opportunities for education and living wage jobs.

The Alliance Texas Logistics Hub employs 24,000, has 24 million square feet of office space and has contributed $26 billion to the local economy (isn't that enough study?!). The Dallas Logistics Hub projects employing 7000 jobs in the short term and 30,000 jobs over the next 20 years.

The prospects for these many jobs also has an impact on education in the region. Dallas County Community College Districts Cedar Valley Community College, the University of North Texas Dallas, and Paul Quinn College, Dallas' HCBU, all have the opportunity to add to their curriculum and research study related to trade, distribution and logistics. Non-profits (like Central Dallas Ministries), can recruit, provide pre-employment training and craft accelerated job training programs, developing a near bottomless pool of potential employees for logistic related commerce. There are a variety of related benefits for workers in the southern communities of Dallas. "We need workforce training, says Representative Johnson, there's going to be such a variety of things out there. People can work without leaving their area....I just feel that whatever we can do to facilitate jobs in that area we need to do that. Those are good jobs, these are needed jobs."

I can understand the recommendation and the need to think about building and developing the community around the Dallas Logistics Hub. Preparing a region to potentially be based on a new economy is not easy. But this is an opportunity to leverage a significant private investment with the desperate need of a local economic stimulus. This initiative is projected to have more than a $68 billion impact on the DFW area over the next few 20 years or so, says the Allen Group.

Now of course these are this company's projections. We expect them to tell us how wonderful their work in this industry is. But if a larger, more impactful stimulus for jobs and economic development exists for southern Dallas than the Allen Group's interests in this area, then someone needs to produce that more viable option.

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