I’ve been involved with corporate recruitment and expansion projects in the Dallas-Fort Worth area since 1988. Some companies decided to locate here; some chose to go elsewhere, based on a wide variety of reasons. I have not, in the last 26 years, seen a location factor as consistently deep-dived and scrutinized by companies and consultants as labor is today.
No doubt, the positioning and search for talent is on. In a recent nationwide survey of corporate executives, skilled labor availability was deemed “very important” in 95 percent of site location decisions. In another survey, it ranked as the most critical from among more than two dozen factors that typically go into a location choice.
When companies consider a move, laborforce facts and figures are widely and easily available, allowing a company to make apples-to-apples comparisons when weighing different regions against one another. Organizations like the Dallas Regional Chamber (DRC), with its deep research and presentation capacity, add value to the process by visualizing and presenting our region’s labor force information in a way that combines it with other harder-to-obtain local factors, such as university degrees awarded, commuting patterns, and new housing developments. All of this work is usually done and reviewed before a company team flies in to kick our tires. But having and presenting all the data possible is no longer enough to assure a company that it’s making the right choice.
When visiting Dallas, corporate executives are concentrating on proving up all the “people” issues in real time, from peers and in conversations with Chamber staff and local labor force experts. The DRC’s economic development team helps the company’s executives and consultants do just that. These days, the human resources leader drives most visit agendas, and our team dedicates much of its time on this critical issue. We’re often setting up peer-to-peer interviews with executives at other companies that already operate here, showcasing residential areas for relocating employees, or connecting the company to school, college, and university leaders who convey the talent pipeline in the Dallas area.
The education to employment pipeline is so critical to the success of our region that the DRC works directly with PreK, public education, community college, higher education, nonprofits and area workforce boards to improve outcomes for students and to create a more talented pool of job candidates for employers. This work requires collaboration and coordination across a variety of stakeholders to make sure that everyone in the continuum is aware of the job trends, opportunities, and employer requirements, including those of newly relocated or expanded companies. The DRC also works to connect these companies with great educational choices both for their current employees’ children and their future workforce.
Companies looking here see what existing businesses also see: a more competitive labor market for specific skills, brought on by other companies either growing or moving here. So, relocation candidates are sharpening pencils and carefully studying our market and our trends, including our strengths, like our tremendous population growth, colleges and universities, the ability to relocate or recruit employees from elsewhere to Dallas, the affordability of living here, fairer taxes and rules and regulations, and a host of other strong counterpoints to any labor force concerns.
Talent and Labor: Where DFW Stands
So what case do we make when companies question our regional labor issues? Fortunately, our workforce, our talent base, and our wages and salaries and employment rules and regulations are very much in our favor.
When it comes to wages, the Dallas area has the benefit of consistently attracting a growing pool of well-educated and productive workers drawn by its overall prosperity and future opportunities. And although our economic success has led to some wage increases, the area remains highly favorable. Overall, wage rates in Dallas are comparable to those in other major markets in the South (such as Houston, Austin, and Atlanta) and are well below those in other technology centers. (Boston wages are about 25 percent higher than DFW’s, and those in San Francisco are more than 30 percent higher.)
And it’s just easier in Texas when it comes to hiring and retaining talent. There are two books with nearly identical covers among the stack of books and magazines on my office desk. Both are reference guides for employers. One is a California guide to employment laws and regulations. The other is a Texas guide to the same, both published by Littler Mendelson, a Chamber-member legal firm specializing in employment law. The similarity ends, however, when both books are viewed side by side.
The California book contains 564 pages; the Texas book has 280 pages. California’s book is, literally, twice as thick. Stacked together, they make a compelling slide when we present to California corporate executives considering a move here.
I wonder why business leaders would deal with all that and choose places much less friendly and more costly in terms of operations. For our region to continue its long run of success with respect to corporate moves, job creation, and its expanding economy, it must continue to be a place that grows, attracts, and retains talented people—especially young people. Companies now, and even more so in the future, will migrate where the talent lives.