Bud Kennedy should be commended for thinking big and long-term with regards to Fort Worth’s future (“Here’s How to Fix Fort Worth“). Unfortunately, his ideas mostly range from the superficial to the counterproductive.
It is hard to disagree with Kennedy’s “image” suggestions: embrace a “modern west” mindset, abandon Dallas-envy, emphasize Trinity Trails, etc. However, it is difficult to imagine that such changes will move the needle on anything of significance. Is there a business whose decision to invest or expand in Cowtown will be swayed by an uptick in the use of the term “DFW”?
More seriously, Kennedy proposes a number of expensive, counterproductive infrastructure projects that have failed to improve growth or standards of living in cities like Buffalo and Detroit. If building stadiums and convention centers is the key to economic growth, why not build 10 per year? Kennedy admits that “technology is changing faster than public transit can keep up” but seems to think that any new transportation spending is valuable, regardless of the deleterious effects of increased taxes to pay for it — or a shift in municipal attitudes that gets too comfortable raising spending in order to cover more things in concrete. Buffalo and Detroit diverted resources from schools or lower taxes to build and maintain incredibly expensive infrastructure projects in decades past in a vain attempt to “prime the pump” of economic growth. A shiny new research facility looks great on paper, but similar attempts to manufacture high-tech research clusters as a developmental silver bullet have failed, wasted money, and distracted attention from real organic economic growth. Moreover, Kennedy’s green suggestion that Fort Worth embrace carbon neutrality is another way of saying that Fort Worth should move to make electricity more expensive, which will hinder the goal of attracting new businesses and investment.
Kennedy’s most solid suggestion was to improve Fort Worth’s K-12 school system, although the devil is in the details on how to accomplish this. The truth is that Fort Worth will thrive or decline based on its ability to develop and attract two things: human capital and businesses (small businesses, mainly). To this end, we should resist the siren song of expensive infrastructure development or gimmicky attempts to turn Cowtown into a new Denver or San Francisco. Instead, we should focus on things that will protect and improve the business climate and standard of living in Fort Worth: taxes as low as possible, easy-to-navigate regulations, cheap land/housing, commonsense zoning, safe communities, and quality public schools.
Director, Lone Star Policy Institute