Economic Development Requires Investment, Not Miracles

Jesse Davis, Denton City Councilmember, District 3

Denton enjoys some of the familiar advantages that made many small frontier towns into booming hubs of commerce. We sit at the junction of two interstate highways, on one of the busiest North-South trade routes in North America. We are home to two major public universities, which bring us thousands of students, academics, and visitors each year. Our culture is both unique and welcoming, and it is easy to feel at home here.

Unfortunately, these advantages can skew our perspective about Denton’s success. Some folks think that since Denton was a special enough place to attract them here (along with their employer and favorite shops) then of course the town’s miraculous pull will work its magic forever. This view discounts the years of hard work and investment that built the Denton we enjoy today.

As early as the 1800s, town fathers published pamphlets and placed newspaper ads far and wide to attract new businesses and citizens. To establish the University of North Texas a group of prosperous citizens paid its early expenses, provided land, and lobbied for a State charter. Texas Woman’s University has a similar story. These efforts and others were part of a deliberate push to make Denton the “Athens of Texas.”

These examples show that economic development and public/private partnerships aren’t new concepts at all. They are modern buzzwords to describe what civic-minded people have always done. There is no magic to it—just that old formula of vision, hard work, and the judicious application of resources.

Even so, Denton also has one key disadvantage—we lack an Economic Development Fund large enough to compete with other north Texas cities. Most cities our size have millions in dedicated funds which they use to attract new businesses, which in turn mean more commercial tax revenue and relief for residential tax payers.

I’ve been asked, “why give a business a handout, when they will come here anyway?” Because they won’t come here anyway. Businesses go wherever their bottom-line dictates. Starting or expanding a business is expensive and tightly budgeted. Every dollar counts; and timelines are short. In contrast, the city’s focus is on long term, stable tax revenue. So just when a business is counting every penny, a city can use a small cash incentive or short-term tax relief to facilitate what may become millions in new tax revenue over time. If a small tax relief package convinces a company to add millions of taxable value to vacant, ag-exempt land, that’s an easy choice.

This is why I have consistently pushed to invest more in Denton’s Economic Development Fund. I am hopeful that the City Council will approve new funding sources by the end of this year. And not just your tax dollars. The Denton business community donates generously every year to the Denton Economic Development Partnership.

Feel free to contact me on these issues and any others before the Denton City Council at [email protected]. I look forward to hearing from you, and I’ll see you around town!