If you’re a landlord or owner trying to devise novel amenities and services that provide you with a distinct competitive advantage, how about helping office and industrial tenants find qualified employees?
Hillwood Properties, developer of AllianceTexas in Tarrant County, Texas, has done just that by embedding itself deeply into the life blood of the 290 companies that call the master-planned community home. As Tom Harris, Hillwood’s senior vice president of operations, explained, the Alliance Opportunity Center (AOC) was created in 1998 as a clearinghouse for AllianceTexas tenants and job seekers.
Here is the enticement for AllianceTexas tenants: the job clearinghouse services are provided free of charge. It is a highly valued service for current space users and a powerful marketing tool for prospective tenants.
A non-profit organization, AOC was established as a satellite workforce center through the collaboration of five local organizations, including Hillwood; Tarrant County College; the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce; Workforce Solutions for Tarrant County; and the Texas Workforce Commission.
Workforce Solutions for Tarrant County is responsible for overseeing nearly $55 million in employment and training dollars to benefit businesses and citizens in Tarrant County. The Tarrant County Workforce Development system consists of eight area Workforce Centers, the Alliance Opportunity Center and 24 subcontractors, providing targeted services to adults and youth.
According to Harris, as of this writing, there are currently 300 job openings with 50 to 60 companies at AllianceTexas. Since 1998, more than 50,000 applicants have worked with the AOC and more than 12,000 applicants obtained a job through AOC in 2011. There are 6.5 million people in the Dallas/Ft. Worth Metroplex and the majority of job seekers are local residents.
AOC is staffed and operated by the Texas Workforce Commission. The Center collects resumes and offers screening and interviewing services as well as outplacement services. Through its alliance with Tarrant County College’s Corporate Services, it provides on-site job training. According to Janet Benton, AOC manager, approximately one-third of AllianceTexas tenants take advantage of training services.
Hillwood augments the AOC’s efforts by co-sponsoring an annual hiring fair with Workforce Solutions for Tarrant County. (The fair was not held in 2009 or 2010 due to the recession.) Past hiring fairs have attracted 1,800 job seekers. In April 2012, 2,100 job seekers turned out and 50 companies presented, over a five- to six-hour period, Harris noted.
The AllianceTexas Hiring Fair, like AllianceTexas itself, is unique in its diversity of employers from industries such as aviation/aerospace, logistics, financial services, healthcare and retail. Positions offered range from warehouse/manufacturing/distribution staff, forklift operators, logistics professionals, financial service professionals, administrative professionals, food service staff, commercial drivers, call center operators, hospitality staff, bank tellers, customer service representatives and more.
“It cuts across all industry sectors. Cell phone fulfillment is a substantial business at AllianceTexas. There is a huge cell phone nucleus here, with 4,000 to 5,000 people. Their business changes every day, and that includes repair and maintenance,” said Harris.
Among new companies in the midst of hiring now is GE Transportation, which has built a new locomotive facility that will ultimately create 500 high-tech manufacturing jobs (though they may not all be created this year). Harris observed, “The need for more technical skills is growing every day. You can see it in the technology at GE Transportation. Having a skilled quality workforce is critical.”
Participating organizations in the 2012 hiring fair this year included AIG, CK Technologies, Bridgestone, Cinemark, Deloitte University/Benchmark Hospitality, DynCorp International, FedEx, Fidelity Investments, GE Transportation, Grainger, JCPenney, Kraft Foods, Lockheed Martin, Mercedes-Benz Financial Services, Michaels Stores, Nationwide Insurance, RECARO Aircraft Seating, Texas Health Resources, Texas Instruments and more.
Janet Benton remarked, “There is a huge need for our services.” She estimates that 70 to 80 percent of applicants ultimately find employment, with at least one-third finding jobs at Alliance. The AOC works with a company’s human resources department or a staffing agency to fill positions.
One major change since the Center’s inception, Benton noted, is that now some 90 percent of applications are submitted online; in 1998, 90 percent were paper applications.
Scale and Partnerships
How has Hillwood Properties been able to do this? The short answer is: due to its sheer scope. AllianceTexas is a 17,000-acre, master-planned community that includes the Alliance Global Logistics Hub, Circle T Ranch, Heritage, Alliance Town Center, Saratoga and Monterra Village projects. AllianceTexas is now home to 290 companies, which have built nearly 32 million square feet and created more than 30,000 jobs. The community also now includes more than 7,700 single-family homes and 288 luxury apartments. Since its inception, AllianceTexas is estimated to have generated $40.65 billion in economic impact for the North Texas region.
“Alliance is kind of unique; we’re in essence creating a city here,” said Harris. This is not to say that developers of smaller-scale office, industrial and mixed-use developments could not follow suit. As Harris noted, every community offers similar kinds of resources with which Hillwood partners, such as community colleges, which play a huge role in job development and training. “Every state probably has a workforce board,” he said. “Make sure you find the appropriate workforce and training partners in your community.”
Looking ahead, Harris explained that the presence of higher education institutions is very important for AllianceTexas. An aeronautics college has moved into the development, offering courses in aviation science and airport management. In the future there will be an Alliance Center devoted to aerospace and logistics, including pilot training, in partnership with the University of Texas. This is not merely happenstance. In 2002, the Dallas/Ft. Worth Regional Workforce Leadership Council identified four industry clusters critical to the area’s growth: logistics, aerospace, semiconductor and healthcare.
Even from Hillwood’s “in-the-trenches” view of the job market, Harris declined to predict whether job growth would pick up substantially in the next year or two, or whether employers would soon find it harder to find employees, if it did. Right now, he said, “Most companies receive a lot of applications so the volume is sufficient to find what they need. People in Texas tend to be optimistic, and I’m one of five guys who have been at Hillwood for a long time. We made it through the recession okay, and I’m pretty hopeful on the leasing and land sales side. It’s been steady and strong, better than 2011.”