2007: Collin County, TX & the Telecom Corridor
Imagine commuting from Gwinnett to downtown Atlanta during Friday morning rush hour in only 30 minutes.
Imagine Gwinnett as the home of a 22,000 – seat soccer stadium surrounded by soccer fields that would annually draw more visitors than most major league football teams do during a season.
Imagine a minor league baseball stadium that caters specifically to family-friendly communities like Gwinnett.
Imagine Gwinnett as ground zero for a biotech corridor that becomes internationally known for its density of life science and technology industries.
Imagination sparks ideas and vision. Vision leads to plans and implementation. Plans turn dreams into realities.
That was the purpose of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce’s Strategic Leadership Visit to Collin County, Texas, where more than 50 Gwinnett community and business leaders met with their peers to learn best practices in the areas of arts and tourism, education, economic development, transportation, and redevelopment.
The Chamber selected Collin County for its many similarities to Gwinnett County, based on research from the community’s Partnership Gwinnett strategy. Here’s a brief summary of some of the lessons learned.
ARTS: Collin County and Plano have a national reputation as major supporters of the arts and public art in the community. Economic impact studies have shown that a strong arts culture in a community helps drive economic development. According to one expert, “Art keeps communities sustainable and keeps people here.” The commitment to the arts was visible whether it was the Hall Office Park that showcased the state’s largest privately owned art collection or the new 124-acre performing and visual arts complex under construction.
TOURISM & BALLPARKS: Frisco is home to both the Pizza Hut Soccer Park (home of Major League Soccer’s FC Dallas) and the Dr Pepper Ballpark (home of the Texas Rangers’ Class AA Frisco RoughRiders). These parks have positioned Frisco as a destination for tourists and visitors, enhanced the city’s family friendly reputation, generated additional business and tax revenues, and differentiated Frisco from other cities in the Dallas metroplex. Pizza Hut Park is a 140-acre facility with a nearly 22,000-seat stadium used more than 300 days a year for soccer, international tournaments, major concerts, school football games, and other community-based events. Adjacent to the park are 17 soccer fields available for school teams. According to Frisco’s economic development director, the soccer complex draws more annual visitors then the Dallas Cowboys.
The Dr Pepper Ballpark has a versatile 10,600-seat stadium, which opened in 2003, that hosts baseball games, charity events, wedding receptions, church services and city events. It averages an annual attendance of 700,000 and was voted the nation’s best new ballpark in 2003.
One critical factor in the creation of both parks was the use of tax increment financing (TIFs), similar to the tax allocation districts (TADs) that will be on the ballot for several Gwinnett cities in November. TADs are an essential tool to revitalize specific areas and improve residents’ quality of life assets, from roads to facilities and more.
K-12 EDUCATION: The Plano Independent School District (PISD) is Collin County’s largest, most mature, and most diverse school system. Critical to the district’s success is its strong partnership with the city in addressing their mutual needs. Both Plano and PISD benefit from the joint use of public facilities, collaboration on financing capital projects, and ongoing planning sessions, which provide for a strong link between economic development and K-12 education in Collin County. Attracting and keeping good school leaders is a must for both Plano and Gwinnett. Both systems use an “academy” approach to preparing principals in their succession planning initiatives. They also face similar challenges in increasing the diversity of their workforces to reflect the student populations. We learned about PISD’s best practices in these areas, as well as its community-supported strategy for increasing the graduation rate and enhancing the financial resources of the system through Plano’s education foundation.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: Nearly 20 years ago, the Richardson Economic Development Partnership began branding and marketing the Telecom Corridor®, one of the highest concentrations of high-tech companies in the world. Gwinnett is well-positioned to create and market a similar concept here. Similar to Richardson, we have access to higher education and an existing knowledge-based workforce; an existing cluster of high-tech industries; and an environment to nurture entrepreneurial development and grow startups into successful companies. In addition, a strong recruitment and business retention strategy was implemented to create quality jobs in their targeted industries.
TRANSPORTATION: While communities like Gwinnett, Atlanta and others have seen their average commute times grow, Collin County’s has fallen between 2000 and 2006, despite similar growth rates. A major factor is the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA). Last month, they opened a 10-mile stretch of the North Dallas Tollway after just 5 years of planning and construction, and recently completed 30 miles of the George W Bush Turnpike (the metroplex’s fourth outer loop) in just 10 years. The NTTA has also re-invested nearly $5 billion back in to other local transportation improvements. The construction of the Tollway and Bush Turnpike has also added almost $2.6 billion to the regional economy.
REVITALIZATION: The most mature community, Plano, is currently retrofitting and redeveloping urban centers to meet the needs of new populations. When considering Gwinnett’s future planning strategies, Plano shared that density is positive; separating uses is not always necessary; size and scale create appropriate relationships; urban and suburban settings can coexist; and gathering places and focal points build community. Only time will tell what ideas and visions were stirred on this visit and how they might impact Gwinnett’s future. While different in many ways, the visit showed one thing that both Collin and Gwinnett County have in common – an unmatched “can do” attitude led by the public-private community and its Partnership Gwinnett vision for the future.