In the room Tuesday in Downtown were the managing partners of several firms that help high-profile companies decide where to open or move facilities, as well as economic development officials who work to attract companies to Texas.
A question put to the group of 75 or so people in the Trost Ballroom at the Plaza Hotel: Who feels the pace of projects is ramping up? “Raise your hand if you’re, like, holy smokes we’re going fast.”
Most every hand in the room shot up. These days, there has been no shortage of work in Texas for site selection firms.
“With manufacturing, our industrial projects are absolutely off the chart as I’m sure it is with all of the consultants here. It is almost impossible to keep up with the calls and emails we are getting to launch different initiatives,” said Kathy Mussio, managing partner at Atlas Insight, a global site selection firm in New Jersey.
Texas, and the Southwest more broadly, is on a roll as companies move or expand into the Lone Star State. And often working behind the scenes are site selection consultants and economic development officials. So it was a coup for El Paso to bring some of those folks to the region to see what it has to offer.
The two-day Team Texas Economic Summit is hosted by Team Texas, a statewide business attraction program, and it was the first time the annual event was held in El Paso. It was hosted, in part, by The Borderplex Alliance.
I had the opportunity to talk briefly with Carla Sones, managing partner of Michigan-based Consulting Connect, and James Blair, managing director of Georgia-based Navigator Consulting. I wanted to know what their impressions of El Paso were and get their take on the opportunity for companies here.
“When we were working on this event, the feedback from consultants was, ‘Oh my gosh, I want to get down to El Paso and check out what they’ve got going on,’” Sones said. “That’s why I feel very confident that there is a lot of interest in people wanting to get to know El Paso.
“There are a lot of questions, but you’re really well-positioned to share the El Paso story.”
Although he was familiar with El Paso and had worked with The Borderplex Alliance, it was Blair’s first visit to the borderland in person. He works mostly with European companies and has worked with more than 175 that located business operations in the U.S. Had anything surprised him so far?
“The degree of the strength of manufacturing here. That was a huge surprise,” he said. “The University of Texas at El Paso, the strength of that university was a surprise. I didn’t realize it was that large. Beautiful campus by the way and an important asset.”
Sones agreed: “I was blown away being at the University of Texas at El Paso today. They talked about the median age in El Paso being 32. That’s just, like, mindblowing. And it’s not just the access to talent but really diverse talent. Companies are looking at diversity, equity and inclusion strategies.”
Over the past decade, El Paso County’s population grew at the slowest rate in 80 years, the Census Bureau reported earlier this month. The official population count in the 2020 census was 865,657, an 8% increase over the previous census.
That’s no slower than that of the U.S. population overall, but not the kind of explosive growth other Texas cities have experienced. To put it in perspective, Bexar County, home to San Antonio, grew 17%. Austin 22%.
The Dallas Morning News reported Tuesday that the Lone Star State is “claiming the headquarters of California companies at more than four times the rate of its nearest competitor.” It won 114 corporate relocations from Jan. 1, 2018, to June 30 of this year.
El Paso has one public company headquarters and few major private company headquarters.
Why? I asked has El Paso not seen the same level of growth as other Texas cities.
“You might not be booming as fast as an Austin, but nowhere in the country is booming as fast as Austin,” Sones said. “I’ll just say we work with a lot of places in the Midwest that would be thrilled to have themselves moving up in the rankings (like El Paso).”
She added, “Your time is coming. You are doing all the right things.
“It’s just so important not to have elected officials and residents get so worried about what you’re not getting. Obviously, you want to stay in the game but also celebrate you are going in the right direction and you’re setting the stage well.
“I think you’re going to start to get more and more as some places are just not able to sustain the level of growth they have right now.”
Blair highlighted the quality of the workforce and quality of life in the El Paso region.
“Businesses are looking for places but also people to work at the business – the talent – and then there are other things that follow, like quality of life,” he said. “Well, you’ve got that here. You’ve got the sun and the culture.”