Fort Worth, Texas was ranked as the sixth fastest growing big city in the U.S. this year. To capitalize on that, Visit Fort Worth is leveraging the strong growth of the area’s advanced and creative industries to reposition Fort Worth in the meetings and events market. The goal is to showcase the city as a dynamic hub for visiting delegates and organizations seeking to connect with national leaders and influencers in technology, logistics, film and music production, and other priority sectors.
The expanding innovation economy and creative talent base in Fort Worth provides meeting planners a wider array of potential speakers, sponsors, exhibitors, and business development partners for conferences in high-growth industries.
“Meeting planners are looking for more assistance to ensure that their education and programming is truly innovative, so they’re looking for help from us to connect them with the local community, and local subject matter experts, about whatever their attendees might need,” said Bob Jameson, president and CEO of Visit Fort Worth. “We’ve become much more involved in providing that information and creating those connections to build new relationships.”
For example, eventually we’ll all be flying over cities in autonomous air taxis developed by companies like Bell in Fort Worth. This is not science fiction. Driverless shuttles and ride-sharing vehicles are already operating on public roads in the U.S., and Bell is presently partnering with Uber and the local Hillwood company to develop autonomous aerial passenger drones.
Beyond Bell, Fort Worth is home to a variety of other established high-tech companies driving innovation in artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, and advanced manufacturing, such as Lockheed Martin and GE, which planners can access with the assistance of Visit Fort Worth.
At Bell, we have a legacy of leading innovation in aviation, from the first American jet fighter to the first tilt-rotor,” said Michael Thacker, executive VP of technology and innovation at Bell. “Today we are carrying that legacy forward by creating new opportunities in urban air transportation with electric and hybrid vertical takeoff and landing aircraft.”
At the same time, there’s a strident spirit of independence among Fort Worth locals who are eager to elevate the city’s image as a place for free-spirited invention and innovation. That’s drawing a surge of people in the digital and media startup communities to neighborhoods surrounding the downtown core.
Visit Fort Worth is actively driving exposure around that, with initiatives like the Hear Fort Worth program that helps local musicians develop their talents and careers. “Music is a magnet for visitors,” said Jameson. “We want to ensure that Fort Worth artists have the opportunity to develop and make our local scene even richer.”
Visit Fort Worth has also been instrumental in growing the local film industry. The organization created the Fort Worth Film Commission, which has collaborated with filmmakers on hundreds of projects in its first three years. The Commission secured filming for movies ranging from “The Old Man & The Gun,” starring Robert Redford and Sissy Spacek, to “Miss Juneteenth” by local writer and director Channing Godfrey Peoples, recently named one of 25 filmmakers to watch by Filmmaker Magazine.
The success of the local film industry was a catalyst for the newly designated Media Production Development Zone in the trendy Near Southside neighborhood, where there’s an emerging digital, creative, and media services cluster. Tapping that expertise, Visit Fort Worth supported production of the Fort Worth Stories film series this year to show the independent and creative spirit of locals from all walks of life.
“We have an increased focus on building a creative and collaborative community that can attract business opportunities and a talented workforce,” said Robert Sturns, the City of Fort Worth’s director of economic development. “Fort Worth has a growing presence in the film community as evidenced by new productions and economic impact as outlined by the Film Commission. By creating the MPDZ, we hope to continue to attract and grow our efforts in film production.”
As an example of that, the City of Fort Worth, the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, and Visit Fort Worth co-produced the Fort Worth Now activation at South by Southwest (SXSW) in March 2018, bringing together business leaders and cultural influencers from across the city.
Bell, for example, brought one of its eVTOL (electric vertical takeoff and landing) vehicles, where attendees could experience the future of urban mobility. That turned out to be one of the most popular exhibits in all of SXSW. Likewise, Lockheed Martin trucked in an F-35 jet fighter training simulator from its Fort Worth facility for people to explore how the world’s most advanced plane connects man and machine.
Amid all the high-tech wizardry, Jonathan Morris, owner of the Fort Worth Barber Shop, gave free haircuts and beard trims. Fort Worth’s Firestone & Robertson Distilling Company handed out craft bourbon, and Fort Worth photographer Rambo Elliott took photos and shared stories about the city’s lifestyle scene.
Outdoors on the main stage, Fort Worth bands such as Bonnie Bishop and the Texas Gentlemen performed while attendees explored the Fort Worth Makers Market for a glimpse into the city’s independent DIY entrepreneurial ecosystem.
“The mix of makers and ambassadors representing different sectors at Fort Worth Now, where you had Texas whisky distillers next to Bell engineers, created an exciting intersection of commerce and tourism,” said Mitch Whitten, executive VP of marketing and strategy at Visit Fort Worth. “What’s important to us now is to build on that, and explain there’s a lot going on here as well, whether that’s the growth of our music and film scene, our food and craft scene, or our tech industry.”
The differentiator in Fort Worth, according to Sturns, is how all of the different sectors in the advanced and creative industries work together to support the city’s rise on the national scene.
“SXSW was a great example of how a community can leverage large-scale corporate partners, smaller entrepreneurs, and tourism and business development organizations into one very creative showing about what our community can provide overall,” he said. “That’s one thing that we pride ourselves on in Fort Worth, in terms of how we all work together. You don’t have a lot of barriers to talk to someone here, because there’s so much local pride, so people are definitely willing to help you out.”