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What Is Economic Development?

The key to cultivating robust communities is economic development. Generally the focus of federal, state and local governments, economic development seeks to improve the overall quality of life within a community. This type of development effort involves the governmental policies that improve the economic, political and social welfare of a community’s residents, including infrastructure improvements like building roads, bridges, dams and water treatment facilities. Economic development can also build or redevelop schools, hospitals, fire and police stations, parks and neighborhoods.

The scope of development typically includes job creation and business retention through incentives for small businesses and workforce development programs. By supporting innovation, new ideas and new strategies, economic development promotes social change and improves the quality of life for community and its residents.

Economic Development in Arlington

The City of Arlington, Texas, focuses on attracting, expanding and retaining businesses. Their Office of Economic Development provides assistance, guidance and information to both current and prospective business partners. Bruce Payne has been the city’s economic development manager since 2009. Payne, an urban and regional planner with almost 30 years’ experience in economic development, is responsible for business and industrial recruitment and retention, identification of new development and redevelopment opportunities, and general economic development issues relating to the City of Arlington. According to Payne, the core responsibilities of the Office of Economic Development “are to encourage, assist and enable the creation of new primary jobs (jobs that are imported into the city’s boundaries); improve the property tax base; and increase the sales tax base. These activities strengthen the city’s annual revenue stream, which allows it to maintain and improve the services it provides for its residents and businesses.”

Arlington Today

Once a bedroom community, Arlington today enjoys its prime location in the heart of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, as well as a growing population, increasing job opportunities and a strong pro-business environment — Arlington is home to the largest industrial park in the region. Arlington also has a successful track record of commercial, residential and sports-related developments in tourism and hospitality.

However, despite its advantages, strengths and accomplishments, Arlington does face economic development challenges — according to a 2014 report, Arlington, TX: An Economic Development Strategic Plan, prepared for the city by TIP Strategies Inc. Recent job growth has been in low-wage sectors, and many of the city’s residential and commercial developments were built more than 30 years ago. Arlington is approaching build out, and has limited opportunities for green field development.

“Because Arlington is largely developed, there are not a lot of available large undeveloped (green field) sites left,” Payne says. “Therefore, new development requires land to be purchased and assembled into large enough tracts that can accommodate new development. Purchasing previously developed parcels is very expensive, usually because it involves pre-existing buildings that have to be demolished and upgrading infrastructure necessary to support the new development.”

Improvements Underway

Economic development efforts for the City of Arlington in 2014 resulted in 13 projects; 5,114 new and retained jobs; more than $380 million in capital investment; and occupancy rates of 97.3 percent for industrial, 94.1 percent in retail and 87.7 percent for office. In September 2014, the city adopted a new comprehensive economic development strategy and began implementing the strategy’s recommendations. Some of these recommendations included enhanced marketing initiatives, targeted recruitment and retention, an increased focus on transformative redevelopment opportunities, development of a business incubator, and the establishment of a building upgrade-rehabilitation fund to assist businesses with critical improvements to aging buildings. Economic development priorities for Fiscal Year 2016, according to Payne, include multiple industrial space projects, continued downtown development and new office development along Interstate 30.

The City offers a variety of economic development incentives designed to create jobs and secure capital investment and spur redevelopment, Payne says. Incentives include tax abatement agreements (based on job and value creation), economic development grants under Chapter 380 of the Texas Local Government Code (which are based on the direct new value of the development), Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones (Arlington has four), infrastructure assistance, fee waivers, and certain tax exemptions.

Professionals interested in creating and maintaining healthy, growing communities might consider pursuing an MPA degree at the University of Texas at Arlington, which can lead to a career in economic development, community development, project management, urban and regional planning and sustainability.

Learn more about the UT Arlington online MPA program.


Payne, Bruce. Personal interview, April 22, 2016.

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