LIFT Speaks EP 33 with Bob Farley: Expert Advice- How to Choose the Best Location for Your Business

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Are you curious about how to select the best location for your growing business? As a startup, have you considered why it’s important to start and grow your new company in the same city? Besides location, what are other factors in choosing the best location for your business?

If you are looking to start, move or grow your business, and are considering what is the best location for you and your employees, you’ll enjoy learning from Bob Farley, Economic Development Director for Grapevine, Texas.

Bob Farley has had a long, and successful career in Real Estate Development.

Early in his career, Bob served in the public sector for the State of Texas as Senior Staff in charge of economic development for Texas Governor Bill Clements. He has also served as Chief Development Officer for the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce.

Bob then moved into the private sector and spent the next 25+ years working with large corporations. He conducted site selections and lead strategic plans for evaluating and entering new markets. He has served as partner and in leadership positions in the respected firms of Greyhill Advisors and Hillwood Development Group.

Bob has spent the last 5 years as Director of Economic Development for the City of Grapevine, Texas. He is the first Economic Director for the city. Under his leadership, Bob and the team at the City of Grapevine have brought in over 1 Billion dollars of new development – and this does not include the indigenous growth in Grapevine.

Bob has also shared with us 5 Tips on how to choose the right location for your business. Download now to get the scoop!

Get Farley’s Fast Five Tips

A Few Questions For Bob

In my current position, I am responsible for . . . introducing new prospects to the Grapevine market and getting them to choose our community

The thing I enjoy most about my work . . . is the interaction with private clients and closing deals.

The biggest surprise for me as a businessman is . . . how competitive the market always is for high-quality projects

One question people should ask me is . . . what new deals are coming our way?

My older self would coach my younger self to . . . be a little more patient.

One thing I wish I knew when I was younger is . . . how much work and effort it takes to get projects to closure.

Introduction

Catherine Miller: Welcome to LIFT Speaks. Today I’m visiting with Bob Farley. He is the Economic Development Director for the City of Grapevine, Texas. Bob has had an illustrious career. He started in the mid-to-late ‘80s with the State of Texas. He worked with Bob Bullock and Bill Clements, two long passed but famous guys for the type of work that they did.  Bob also worked at the state level in economic development.

Then he moved into the private sector and he has worked with large companies such as Greyhill Advisors and the Hillwood Company. He has specifically worked in developing strategies and pulling together the client with the public sector and the real estate industry and holding all those parts and pieces together and making deals happen. In a way, you’re a big dealmaker. You make deals happen, right?

Bob Farley: We do. Thank God.

Catherine Miller: Yeah, yeah, that’s what makes it fun. So after that long career at the State of Texas and then also in the private sector, in 2014, Bob moved back into the public sector as the first Economic Development Director of the City of Grapevine. I happen to know that there was an entire nationwide search and Bob was the guy who was picked for this job and he has done some amazing things for the City of Grapevine since he has been here.

Bob Farley: Thanks.

Catherine Miller: Yeah. So, it’s cool to have you here. I feel like I got the rock star of economic development sitting with us.

Bob Farley: My pleasure to do it.

Catherine Miller: Yeah. Well, thank you. It’s real clear why the City of Grapevine selected you, but I’m curious, why did you say yes to working with the City of Grapevine?

Bob Farley: Well, that’s a great question and I think a lot of it was, that I recognized right away. . . I mean when you come to the community and look around and you see what’s here in terms of Main Street and some of the long term investments and so on, that this was a community that understood economic development and had taken really proactive steps over a long, long period of time to put itself in the best possible shape it could be in.

It was visionary in the way in which the local leadership approached economic development. So, I felt like it would be a pretty good fit to bring a deal guy into an environment where people wanted to see things get to the finish line.

Catherine Miller: Right. They had already done a good job of laying a good foundation for you to step in and do good work.

Bob Farley: Absolutely. And the main catalyst when we got here was the purchase of property, which gave the city something very specific to offer in the marketplace.

Catherine Miller: Right. I was reading about that this morning. It was the Palmeiro land tract, right?

Bob Farley: Yeah, Rafael Palmeiro, the ex-Texas Ranger, ball player had purchased about 185 acres of – I guess bought it at the highest part of the market, hit the recession and obviously got stalled, which a lot of people did, and the city wound up buying the land out of foreclosure. So not a great moment for him personally, but an opportunity for the city.

Catherine Miller: Right. One of the cool facts is in the five years that you’ve been here, you’ve brought in over $1 billion worth of new development.

Bob Farley: Right. It’s not all at the city property. Some of it has been scattered into other parts. But a lot of it has been focused on the city land and really most of it has been focused on that northeast corridor along Hwy 26 out by the mall and back down towards Silver Lake and close to the city. That’s where the majority of the land was, both city-controlled and privately-controlled.

Catherine Miller: Right. Then your job then as the developer is to find the right clients and to woo them and to get them to come in and choose Grapevine, right? But then you also have to hold their hands through the process and make sure it comes to a close.

Bob Farley: That’s exactly right. I mean most of the early activity is really trying to make sure that they understand what is really significant about the opportunity in Grapevine, whether it’s a big restaurant or corporate headquarters or whatever the case may be, and then as you say, keeping their confidence and making them feel like we’re going to actually be able to complete a transaction here. It turns out that a big part of economic development is process. It’s making sure that they feel comfortable, that if they make an arrangement with the city the city will be a good partner for them. I think probably drawing off a lot of years of corporate experience, we’ve been able to do that.

Catherine Miller: Yeah, yeah. One of your big parcels went to Kubota.

Bob Farley: It did.

Catherine Miller: Which is an international company.

Bob Farley: Yeah.

Catherine Miller: Just using them as an example, how do you find them? How do you find these companies and know they’re looking for headquarters? Then what type of marketing do you do to track them and bring them to our area?

Bob Farley: In their particular case, they had already started doing homework on the Dallas market. So, they had determined that being in California was no longer really a valuable place for them, given that their entire distribution market and most of their customers are kind of in the center part of the US.

Catherine Miller: Oh, OK.

Bob Farley: Dallas, in general, made a lot of sense. Now Grapevine versus other spots of the Dallas market, I mean they were interested because they knew the land was available. They didn’t know a lot about Grapevine, and so obviously early on, if a lot of your other investments say go in into Frisco-Plano, you have to kind of convince people this has a lot of merit, as well as see if it’s a good fit for who you are as a company.

I think the fact that we were an agrarian community and they are an agrarian service company – those things began to resonate. They also saw some things in Grapevine such as the downtown and they really felt gosh, this is kind of an interesting place. It’s not your average run-of-the-mill suburban community.

Catherine Miller: Right. They’re moved in.

Bob Farley: They’re in there. We’ve got about 400 people working out there now. Most all of the California activities are shut down. They seem to be doing extremely well. We’re having a meeting this Wednesday with their new US president. So, we will get a little more information about how it’s going. But they’ve settled in and they’re growing and they’re going to expand where they are which is what you always hope is going to happen.

Catherine Miller: Of those 400 people, how many of those people transferred and how many were new hires? Do you know?

Bob Farley: Probably about 50 to 60 came from California and then there are other people who come from Japan and they do cycles. They’re here in the US for a while and then they go back, et cetera. Most everybody else, it’s a permanent employee has been hired from somewhere in the North Texas market.

Catherine Miller: You’ve worked with companies, helping them go through an entire process of site selection – selecting the city and then the tract of land – and walk alongside them until closure. Most of us aren’t Kubotas, right? Most of us are small company business owners. How would you advise someone on how to go about finding the right location whether they want to move their business or are just starting their business. What would you recommend? What process should they go through?

Bob Farley: You know, we went through a lot of time at the frontend of that process, really trying to understand what the company’s true motivation was. I mean you can imagine with as many – we’ve probably done a couple of hundred of these site location deals over the years. Some of them are just adding a fourth or a fifth plant. They just have grown enough that they need to be outside of where they currently operate and they’re not really sure where that is physically.

We worked out big deals like UPS where when they were moving from New York to Atlanta, and in the process, they wanted us to understand they were changing their culture. They didn’t want to just be a package delivery service. They wanted to be a logistics provider and a global leader in that.

So, they were looking to change company culture and not just pick a new site. Every one of these deals kind of starts with that understanding of what is company XYZ actually trying to get done here. Is it just lower cost? Is it get into a new market that they haven’t served but need to or like in the UPS case, are they trying to be just a different company altogether and they feel like they would be better served if they were in a different location?

Catherine Miller: Right. So, what about a company that is like 10 to 50 employees? And they’re a growing company, but that’s where they are today. How would you advise them to go check different cities out and figure out which is the right place for them?

Bob Farley: In some ways, the dynamic is not totally different even though the employee base might be a little bit smaller because the issue that drives their decision to locate is probably one of those things that we’ve already talked about.

Catherine Miller: Right.

Bob Farley: What happens with the smaller companies is a lot of times they’re also looking for that sort of entrepreneurial element, what cities have infrastructure, financing, that support smaller firms. They’re not going to take $50 million out of cash and build a campus. They’re going to plug into an incubator or some other type of arrangement. So, they’re going to look a little more heavily at that aspect.

Catherine Miller: OK. So, one of the questions we have to ask is why Grapevine. Why would anybody, whether they’re a small startup company or whether they’re a big company or a mid-sized company, why would someone choose Grapevine? Because that’s your specialty, right?

Bob Farley: Well, I think Grapevine is a relatively easy sell in this sense. One, it’s in a very dynamic big market. It happens to be in the middle of a very big dynamic market. It’s at the edge of one of the fastest-growing airports in the country. Our highway system is largely complete, which means you can get from east, west, north, south from here pretty easily and that gives you access to the entire DFW customer and labor market.

Catherine Miller: Yeah.

Bob Farley: And, you know, we had some land. I mean we have someplace to put people, which always makes a huge difference when people are trying to locate. They don’t generally want to do that over a ten-year period. When it’s time, it’s time. So yeah.

Catherine Miller: Right. And then I’m sure that education base and the ability to find employees.

Bob Farley: Community attributes. We have a relatively low tax rate. Our housing is pretty affordable. So if you’re transferring a lot of people, that’s a big plus. School districts are excellent. We’ve invested a lot of our park system. So, when people come here and they see all of the other amenities that the city has to offer, they’re oftentimes going, “Oh my, this is a pretty good deal for the price and look at all these other benefits that we get.”

Catherine Miller: Yeah, yeah, I agree. I think the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, in general, is a great place to be. I think the fact that Grapevine sits in the center of Dallas and Fort Worth has its own pluses and now, just even from our office, we’re a half a mile or less from one of the TEXRail stations and the other direction, we’re maybe three-quarters of a mile from it.

Bob Farley: Well, and I’m glad you brought up TEXRail because TEXRail is another example of Grapevine thinking ahead. We’ve invested over the years as opposed to try to just pare back and spend the least possible amount of money on things. When we decide to put money into the train district, we pretty much decided as a community early on that we didn’t just want a platform and a ticket. We wanted something around it.

We figured out a way to plan that it added another amenity to Main Street, and it creates its own sense of place and its own sense of arrival. Companies look at that even if they’re not immediate users of transit and they go, “Gosh, these guys are thinking ahead,” and that makes a huge difference in terms of their willingness to partner with us going forward.

Catherine Miller: Yeah, yeah. For those who don’t know, Grapevine is building a great transit center right on Main Street. However, it’s not just a place to take the train. There’s also going to be a small hotel there, a food court.

Bob Farley: There’s a boutique hotel. It’s a Marriott product. It’s really their highest boutique brand and then there’s a public space because we do so many public things in Grapevine with festivals and so on, so that it kind of adds capability to Main Street. The interior of the public space is also a food hall. So, there will be opportunities for Grapevine and North Texas vendors to come and do things for that population that they couldn’t really do from another location. They will have at least 8,000 to 10,000 people a day coming through that train station. It’s a real interesting –

Catherine Miller: It’s going to be fun and it looks beautiful.

Bob Farley: It’s gorgeous.

Catherine Miller: It’s super cool-looking. I can’t wait for it to be here and to come up. In fact, we have bikes and bike racks here. I’m thinking I will be popping on my bike and taking a ride down from there.

Bob Farley: It also connects to the hike and bike trail for the city. There’s going to be lots of opportunity for people who just bike over to Grapevine for the day to put their bikes up, have a drink on the patio and absorb whatever Grapevine is doing that weekend.

Catherine Miller: It’s a great place to be.

Bob Farley: It is.

Catherine Miller: Thank you for coming.

Bob Farley: My pleasure.

Catherine Miller: It’s amazing all that has happened in the last five years, all that has been developed and what has been completed. It will be fun to see what happens next.

Bob Farley: I was a very lucky guy to get this job.

Catherine Miller: With all the economic opportunities in our area, we have the beautiful train station three-quarters of a mile, another one that’s less than half a mile with the DFW airport that’s about three miles from our office and we know that Grapevine is an entrepreneurial hotspot. There’s lots here. What would you recommend? How would you coach an entrepreneur to find the correct location?

Bob Farley: Well, one of the things that really helps that process is a place to settle in – a launch pad if you will or some kind of takeoff spot – whether it’s a shared office concept or some kind of a larger incubator or anything along those lines.

A lot of these modern, more millennial type firms are really just looking for exactly that place. Some place they can begin their operation, and like we said earlier, they’re not going to be hitting the corporate treasury for building a brand-new office building. If you don’t have someplace to put them, you’re going to attract some people and then at the same time, kind of push them away.

So, something like the LIFT Office, anything that allows people to settle in quickly and connect to that market. Then start to understand all the different ecosystem connections in Dallas is really critical to that.

Catherine Miller: Right, yeah and I agree. We’ve had several startup companies who start here, and they work here until they feel strong, until the – really a lot of times it’s the bank saying, “OK, you can make that next move. You’re ready to make that next move.” We’re a great spot for that and a great place to connect …

Bob Farley: And that’s only going to get better as the infrastructure gets better, especially the train station, which I think is going to really encourage that.

Catherine Miller: I agree. Bob, if people wanted to reach out with you, learn more about the City of Grapevine, how can they get in contact with you?

Bob Farley: Very straightforward. You can obviously go to the city website and I think there will be a link to that at the end of this presentation or what I actually prefer to do is just have dialogue with people directly. So, go ahead and call me at any time at the city. We’re there pretty much all the time, 817-410-3108 and we’re happy to work with you on any project or just brainstorm about ideas and see if there’s a long-term fit.

Catherine Miller: Cool, cool.

Bob Farley: Thank you.

Catherine Miller: Well, we will have show notes. We will list off ideas and ways for you to shop for and think about where you want to start or grow your business, and we will also include the URL and the phone number on these show notes. So, watch for that. Well, thanks again for joining us. It’s great to have you here.

Bob Farley: Thank you. My pleasure.

Catherine Miller: And we would love for you to come by and take a tour of LIFT. So, if you’re in the area, we’re on Texan Trail, just a couple of blocks off of Main Street. Come join us.

Get Farley’s Fast Five Tips

About LIFT Office

The LIFT Office is a coworking/flex office/meeting space in the center of DFW in Grapevine, Texas. We are just 3 miles from the DFW Airport. The LIFT Office is a dynamic community of influencers, entrepreneurs, independent professionals, consultants, and freelancers. Learn more at http://theliftoffice.com/

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