The Business of Well Being
By Rachel Duran
In Richardson, Texas, business leaders understand the heightened awareness of its talent base to achieve an ideal life and work balance. These officials, much like economic developers across everywhere, continue to build upon a diverse roster of amenities to keep talent and their families engaged, fulfilled and enriched.
A unique yearly event in the city of Richardson is the Richardson Corporate Challenge. “We know that several things happen with recreation; it telegraphs a corporate value, which suggests corporations value fitness and team work,” says Dan Johnson, city manager. The challenge is modeled in the spirit of Olympic Games, featuring a series of events and venues, including a diverse schedule of events that will attract everyone from the “athlete to the geek,” Johnson notes.
The corporate challenge convenes with an opening ceremony at a local plaza where teams rally around their corporate flags. The games run for two months; in the last challenge, 55 companies and 10,000 employees participated. “What we know happens is that companies create a theme for the games,” Johnson says. They celebrate their winners within their companies. It is the essence of employee morale, in a way, to have employee recognition in a nontraditional method.”
The opening ceremonies of the challenge also feature Texas Special Olympians. In the 15 years of the corporate challenge, companies have raised $1.5 million for the program. Johnson says not only do companies feel a connection with the Special Olympians but also with their fellow corporate competitors. “Many of them are rivals, and on a personal basis, people get to meet their colleagues such as HR directors from other companies,” Johnson says. “It is the business of good emotions and good recreational well-being.”
The business of good emotions is a “soft” business climate asset officials are nurturing to provide companies and their workers with a sense of place, achieving a favorable quality of life.
Work Smarter, Not Harder
One of the worst things about the work day for many employees is the commute to and from the office. Cities such as Denver have made ease of mobility among their leading economic development strategies. “We are a region that proactively solves transportation and congestion problems,” says Laura Brandt, manager of economic development, Metro Denver Economic Development Corp. “The FasTracks project is how we are doing that; at full build out there will be 120 miles of light rail, commuter rail, and bus rapid transit.”
When the FasTracks project is complete, it will more than double the Denver metro’s 36 light rail stations. In April, the first of the additional spokes, the West Line, which runs to Jefferson County, will begin running. Two other lines scheduled for completion in 2015 will run to the northwest to the city of Arvada, and from Union Station to Denver International Airport, respectively. The DIA line will end at the new terminal being built at the airport. Also, when riders get on the rail line at Union Station to DIA, they can check their baggage and not have to worry about it until they deplane at their destination.
“There is great excitement on the part of business here and those looking to expand or relocate here,” Brandt says in regard to the ability to access light rail services. “I can’t think of a single prospect we have worked with in recent years that didn’t want to know where the site they were looking at was in relation to the FasTracks line; it is extremely important in their decision making.”
Brandt adds that corporations are also agreeable to locating at sites in metro Denver where light rail construction hasn’t yet begun because what matters is their operations will be located at or near a rail station, providing ease of access to their offices.
In Richardson, the city was one of the first outside of central Dallas to receive an extension for light rail services. The city is home to four light rail stations, each located about a mile apart. Two of the stations are situated in greenfield spaces; the other two are located in areas with redevelopment opportunities.
“There is an important focus on place making around the urban villages in any setting but often times this is most maximized when associated with key transit access,” Johnson says. Among the highlights of greenfield developments in Richardson are those located near the Galatyn Park Station, which includes an outdoor venue that plays hosts the largest outdoors art and music event in north Texas, the Wildflower! Art and Music Festival. The outdoor venue features up to 50,000 seats. The developments near the Galatyn Park Station also include trail networks, hotel and meeting spaces, and the former Nortel campus, which was purchased by Pillar Commercial for redevelopment.
Johnson points out another rail station stop, the Spring Valley Station, which services a successful 30-acre redevelopment, where new developments have increased the tax roll from $10 million to $50 million annually. “The redevelopment became attractive to Fossil [Inc.] in its expansion plans because it was near a rail station and the Brick Row Urban Village,” Johnson says. “Corporate expansions have been able to find proximity to rail and quality improvements to residential, and trail networks.” These and other amenities have garnered national attention from publications and organizations that find Richardson among the country’s top places to live.
Back in Denver, a $1 billion renovation to Union Station has opened up several developments. Projects include the addition of an Amtrak rail line at the station. The station’s first floor will focus on transit; the upper levels will include retail spaces and a hotel. Two new office buildings are being built near Union Station. What’s more, there are several office buildings within walking distance of Union Station, including the new headquarters for DaVita Inc., a kidney dialysis company, which recently opened its Denver HQ, relocating its operations from California.
“There are also spec office and housing going up within walking distance of Union Station,” Brandt says. “In fact, we are seeing a lot of redevelopment in the planning stages or underway at the various future light rail stops.”
Visioning Pays Off
Besides proximity to rail stations, other infrastructure components attractive to developers and companies are bodies of water. In Fort Worth, Texas, a signature development is underway along the Trinity River. Called the Trinity River Vision, the 540-acre redevelopment is located north of downtown Fort Worth. The north side will be the community’s focal point of development during the next 50 years to 60 years, says David Berzina, executive vice president, Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce.
“The town lake will be dammed up and dug out and the water in the Trinity River will be used for flood control and entertainment such as kayaking and motor-powered restaurants,” Berzina notes. The Trinity River Vision has been in place for four years, and one bridge is completed; with two slated to begin construction this year.
Fort Worth’s downtown is also home to Sundance Square, a 35-block development. A new development, the Plaza at Sundance Square, will feature three new commercial office buildings, and a plaza that will play host to live entertainment. A feature of the entertainment space will be a water display and light show, which will be lowered when performances taking place. Two of the new facilities will be six-story structures, and the other will be five stories. The spaces will feature retail spaces and host any number of corporate activities such as professional services. “We have a 93 percent occupancy rate in downtown Fort Worth,” Berzina says. “This new construction will get gobbled up within a year or two.”
Fort Worth’s quality of life amenities include world-class museums and arts and culture events. The city and the downtown have been recognized as being livable communities. Fort Worth’s 109 acres of museum space are the second-highest number of accredited museums within walking distance of each other, second only to Washington, D.C. “We are fortunate that 40 years ago we had city leaders that got together and said ‘we have a history for being known for rodeos and stockyards, let’s augment that and become known for our museums,’” Berzina says. “About 30 years the process started with the Kimbell Museum and the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, joined by the Modern Art Museum.” Fort Worth is also home to the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame and the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.
The Bass Performance Hall, a $67 million venue located in Sundance Square, is home to the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition; as well as symphony, ballet and opera groups.
These assets are important to corporations, Berzina notes. “We attracted a HQ from Chicago; Ferris Manufacturing Corp., who brought their executive team down a few times during the selection process, and the downtown was important.” Berzina says corporations have an entertainment destination in the downtown where they can take family and suppliers.
Forward thinking and planning by city leaders was also crucial in the development of Richardson’s amenities. “We are a community of 100,000 people that has all through the years had good leadership from a citizenry of corporate thinkers, if you will, who value timely infrastructure, well-planned neighborhoods, the benefit of parks and soft services to make a full community experience,” Johnson says. “That is inherent in our DNA. The corporate business community is a core piece of a community’s infrastructure; it is to be supported and nurtured.”
Economic developers all over are establishing ideal quality of place amenities to attract and retain businesses and the talent, which also encompasses connections with local higher education entities. “We are all becoming attuned to the fact that work is where you will spend the waking hours of your life and there is the need to be enriched and appreciated,” Johnson says. “In soft features we start appreciating what the young worker expects and wants in their daytime experiences.”
Illustration by Stuart Miles at Free Digital Photos.net