Fort Worth Now
A similar initiative was recently launched in Fort Worth, Texas, to not only help businesses recover but to also grow and attract businesses to the city.
Mayor Betsy Price said Fort Worth Now is intended to be a one-year initiative to help small and large businesses get on their feet while also positioning Fort Worth for anticipated relocations to the city.
“We’re calling it a strike force instead of a task force,” she said. “We’re expecting relocations from New York and California, and we want to be prepared to strike while the iron is hot, so to speak.”
The strike force is co-chaired by Elaine Agather, president of Chase Bank, and John Goff, real estate developer, “neither of whom typically do this sort of thing,” Price said. “It was a real vote of confidence for them to step up and chair the committee and to get actively involved.”
Fort Worth Now has a 24-member committee comprised of mainly chief executive officers of businesses but also members of local government and universities. Price said the city wanted very high level people making the calls to craft needed connections.
The city started the initiative in May and then launched it June 1, with Goff putting in $100,000 of his own money and challenging the rest of the business community to do the same. Within 10 days, $450,000 in private donations had been raised.
Fort Worth Now launched a website as an online resource hub to help businesses of all types. Price said the idea was for this to be a “very quick, very nimble organization — unlike how city-run task forces can sometimes get bogged down in details.”
The city took $40 million of CARES grant money for small businesses, and Fort Worth Now is administrating those grants. It handles the operation and recruitment. It also hired Jarratt Watkins as the director, with his salary being paid by those private donations.
“They’ve done amazing things. I’m really pleased with the momentum they’ve built,” Price said.
One of those impressive things was a “mask strike.” She said Fort Worth Now used CARES money as well as its own donations to buy masks and deliver them to small businesses, which would have been hurt by the extra cost.
“We had 250,000 masks in the hands of small businesses in two and a half hours. We advertised on Friday and distributed them on Tuesday,” she said, adding they were delivered in groups of 200 masks.
Local companies are also being creative in responding to the pandemic. Price said companies are innovating by making PPE on the side like Alcon and TX Whiskey, which are making hand sanitizers. She added they had recently learned of a brand-new company making face shields and masks.
The initiative, according to Price, is “designed to network. I think there are more golden opportunities for start-ups like that.”
Price said this crisis, in particular, has created an awakening to the reality that we’ve been relying too much on imported products. “I think you’ll see fundamental changes in business and changes in the supply chain.”
The mayor admitted that often the public government sector tends to be reactive when it comes to economic development while the private business sector tends to be proactive. “I think there’s a lesson to be learned there for both sides,” she said.
Aside from providing funding, Fort Worth Now also seeks to provide mentorships for businesses. So if someone is looking for a grant, there is an application, but if they’re looking for a mentor, they can call Watkins to help connect them with someone who can help with their particular need. There’s also discussion about having a business summit with topics like how to fill out a grant application or profit and loss statement.
Even though Fort Worth Now is supposed to be a one-year initiative, Price believes it could be continued. She said CEOs are realizing they need to step up to help their communities and they have a great interest in doing so.
“Things can be done quicker on the private side, and that’s often where the connections are,” she said. “Fort Worth has always been blessed to have great private-public partnerships, maybe more than others. I encourage every city to not think the government can do this but that private (sector) can do it and we can help facilitate it. Talk to your businesses, find out what they need and get them matched up and get it moving.”
As a small business owner and entrepreneur herself before taking public office, Price said, “I’m a firm believer in sharing resources. Why reinvent the wheel over and over? I think this is an exciting chance to bring everyone together and make great progress.”