Arlington wrapped up 2018 with a pair of economically significant trends:
First, it ended the year by finally edging right up to the 400,000-population mark – this despite ongoing predictions that the hundred-square-mile city was “nearing buildout” since it hit the 200,000 mark more than two decades ago. Demographers now project a maximum population potential closer to half a million. Maybe that’s accurate, perhaps not, exceeding population growth expectations being an Arlington historical norm.
Second, 2018 might well go down as the city’s most economically productive year in history, marking milestones in auto manufacturing, housing construction, downtown renovation, tourism enhancements, aviation and a booming Interstate 20 corridor rife with a mix (more than 3 million square feet) of new retail, warehousing and auto dealership activity.
That said, what follows is an admittedly subjective list of the top 10 economic impact trends in Arlington in 2018, from tenth to first. Oddly, the list starts with a failure:
10. No Amazon for Arlington but … Like most applicants, the city did not make the final cut for Amazon’s heralded HQ2. Its proposal, however, linking the 200-acre Globe Life Park area to co-hosting a major corporate campus, along with an array of grants, abatements, impact fee waivers and the creation of a municipal management district, demonstrated the city’s ability to wheel and deal on a national/international level. And it attracted significant attention that is likely to pay dividends when attracting other major suitors for years to come.
9. Education is also big business …Two key factors influencing a city’s attractiveness for new investment are a skilled workforce and innovations in science and technology. The Arlington school district made a giant leap forward in the former area when in February it debuted the new Dan Dipert Career and Technical Center. The 170,000-square-foot campus accommodates 2,400 students annually with a focus on a real-world jobs, offering training and certification in automotive technology, architectural design, animation, audio and video recording, broadcasting, business and marketing, cosmetology, building construction, culinary/hospitality, fire academy, graphic design, health sciences, horticulture, information technology, law enforcement, photography, precision manufacturing, sports medicine, emergency medical technician and welding.
8. Meanwhile, in October at “The” UTA ... The city’s biggest economic generator, the University of Texas at Arlington – now with more than 55,000 students – opened its $125 million Science & Engineering Innovation & Research building. Almost $30 million in active research grants moved with UT Arlington’s faculty into the new facility, focusing on interdisciplinary research around major health science challenges such as brain health, cancer, cardiovascular health, healthy aging and rehabilitative medicine.
7. Innovation in flight … Aviation isn’t among Arlington’s familiar brands, with a notable exception – helicopters, particularly those of Bell Helicopter. The company’s new V-280 Raptor (a tilt rotor variant) is seen frequently in south Arlington skies. That’s because the newly expanded Bell Research Center, next to Arlington Municipal Airport, is there to test the company’s future flying technology, currently including the Valor, 525 Relentless, V-247 Vigilant and the Autonomous Pod Transport – the latter an unmanned flight vehicle heralded as the next big thing in aviation.
6. Downtown renovation … Downtown continues to boom and would rank higher on the economic perks list except that, frankly, things are currently in a mess, albeit a productive one. The downtown main drag, Abram Street, is in the midst of a renovation designed to slow traffic and enhance pedestrian appeal, plus the two-block, 900-resident, mixed-use Park Place is rising from dirt near the middle of downtown. Nevertheless, new eateries and bistros continue to proliferate – Urban Alchemy, Tipsy Oak, Tiki Lounge and others just in 2018 – and a new-era downtown library has opened, along with the 101 Center mid-rise apartment complex and other new businesses, co-working enterprises in particular. The expectation by the end of 2019 is that downtown will be home for 10,000 people, mostly with UT Arlington connections – a ten-fold increase from five years ago.
5. Housing takes off … For much of 2018 the 2,000-acre Viridian Community (managed by Nehemiah Corp.) in far North Arlington along the banks of the Trinity River ranked among the nation’s top 30 in sales. That development alone is expected to eventually have almost 20,000 residents. Arlington is also home to another national home developer, Fortune 500 company D.R. Horton, which in October opened the company’s sleek new $20 million headquarters on a four-acre corporate campus next to the Arlington Entertainment District.
4. Big bucks in e-gaming … The idea was to start big, so Esports Stadium Arlington, the largest gaming and esports events facility in North America – formerly the Arlington Convention Center – celebrated its grand opening Thanksgiving weekend with FACEIT’s Esports Championship Series Season 6 Finals – no small thing with $750,000 in prize money. Esports Stadium Arlington is a $10 million, 100,000-square-foot facility built to serve the unique and technologically advanced demands of the esports industry. It features a competition space with a built-in 85-foot-long LED wall accompanied by an immersive sound and theatrical lighting system.
3. Interstate 20 takes off … So many people work in businesses along Arlington’s I-20 corridor in a variety of retail, industrial, aviation, restaurant, automotive, service and financial jobs that it’s difficult to accurately gauge how many jobs there are, but the current conservative estimate is in the 5,000-plus range. And growing. A new UPS shipping center, more than a million square feet, opens in 2019, bringing 1,400 new jobs with it. The former Johnson & Johnson campus at I-20 and State Highway 360, a cluster of warehouse and transit buildings dubbed Park 20-/360 that spans 1.6 million square feet on 119 acres, also opened in 2018. Ditto for another monstrous project, Bardin Road Warehouses on what was the National Semiconductor manufacturing site, featuring three warehouses, each 420,000 square feet. Add to that a steady proliferation of retail shops, restaurants and offices and the combined impact of I-20 commerce, jobs and taxes is monumental, even if less than glamorous.
2. Texas Live! rocks … Arlington leaders for years wanted to develop some way to attract regular visitation to the sprawling Entertainment District (Texas Rangers, Dallas Cowboys, Six Flags Over Texas, Hurricane Harbor, Esports Arena Arlington). They hope the answer is the $250 million Texas Live!, which opened in 2018 as one of the largest sports-anchored developments in the country. Lots of restaurants. Plenty of giant TVs – more than 110. A multitude of beer taps – about 550. Professional Bull Riders Texas, Lockhart Smokehouse, Troy’s, Pudge’s Pizza, Sports & Social Arlington, Miller Tavern & Beer Garden, Guy Fieri’s Taco Joint, plus Arlington Backyard, a 5,000-capacity outdoor event pavilion. It’s expected to host more than 250 events annually, including concerts, art shows, festivals and community events. And a flagship luxury hotel, Live! by Loews, will open there in 2019. So far, based on heavy attendance, it’s working.
1. The old is still going strong … Arlington’s blossoming from a little city of 7,800 in 1950 to today’s 400,00 really began with the arrival of a massive General Motors auto plant. While the big automaker recently announced plans to shutter some plants elsewhere, zap 14,000 jobs and stop producing new models, the Arlington plant continued to crank out 1,200 SUVs a day over three shifts, even as SUV sales hit new highs. The plant, with 4,200 employees, is in the midst of a $1.4 billion renovation, but there’s more happening. At what was the Six Flags Mall site, GM’s new $250 million Automotive Logistics Center opened partially in 2018; the project eventually will involve 1.2 million square feet of space for GM plant suppliers. Though the project was originally projected to produce 1,000 new jobs, that estimate has since been upgraded to 1,800.