Search the Site

Episode Transcript

Last week, we got on a plane and flew to Dallas, Texas, because we wanted to know why everybody else is going there. Over the past decade, more people have relocated to the Dallas–Fort Worth metro area than anywhere else in the U.S. It is on track to become the third-largest metro area in the country, jumping ahead of Chicago and trailing only New York and Los Angeles. In that episode, the first of two, we focused on the city of Dallas itself: how it grew over the past century despite the lack of traditional attributes like a port or even a big river; we heard about Dallas’ history of racism and its continuing inequities around income, housing, and education. We learned that the city’s reputation of friendliness is well-deserved; we also learned that real-estate developers have too much leverage in City Hall and that the mayor has too little leverage. Along the way, we ate way too much barbecue, saw some wonderful art, and we sulked a bit when the mayor said he’d pick us up at the airport and then didn’t. Today on Freakonomics Radio, we zoom out to look at the bigger metro area and the bigger issues — including Texas politics:

Cullum CLARK: A really big part of the state population lives in places that are really quite purple.

We visit one of those rapidly purpling areas, which also happens to be the suburban outpost of the Dallas Cowboys.

Jason FORD: We were a city of 6,000 people. We’re now up to 215,000.

We ask how the city of Dallas feels about those booming suburbs.

Eric JOHNSON: We are absolutely competing with them. 

And how Dallas natives feel about all the newcomers.

DESHAWN: I don’t like it. I’m just being honest. It’s too congested for me.

Well, it’s going to be a little bit more congested — at least for the rest of this episode, as we continue our visit. Freakonomics Radio does Dallas, part two.

*      *      *

Cullum Clark is an economist and a fifth-generation Dallasite who studies the economic development of cities. And he’s trying to persuade me that Dallas is the kind of city that can appeal to people who live in more traditional cities.

CLARK: I think all too often, people in New York, San Francisco, D.C. have stereotypes that are really outdated.

DUBNER: Oh, we do. Believe me, we do.

CLARK: If you like a walkable urban area where you can walk from your apartment building to a variety of coffee places, there are a number of places where you can live and achieve that. Not quite at the Upper West Side level, but to a much greater degree than you probably think. So you can actually have a fun, walkable, culturally interesting life. I would go to the Arts District of either Dallas or Fort Worth and see that in both cases, there are concentrations of really amazing museums and arts facilities that, if not quite New York, are among the best of any city in the United States.  

Laura MILLER: We have a great location, we have no income taxes, we have no snow to speak of, we have great margaritas and Tex-Mex. 

And that’s Laura Miller, who was the mayor of Dallas in the early 2000s.

MILLER: I think that the reason that Dallas will continue to attract companies to the city, not just the suburbs, is because we have incredible cultural and sports and nightlife options. It’s a very vibrant city. But it’s really unfortunate because we will fall behind. We’ve already fallen behind the northern suburbs that are doing much better, where all these companies are really moving to. 

The relationship between the city of Dallas and its northern suburbs — and the rivalry between the city and its suburbs — this topic came up in multiple interviews we did. Eric Johnson is the current mayor of Dallas.

JOHNSON: At one time, it was safe to describe the surrounding municipalities as largely bedroom communities that were there because folks there wanted a cheaper housing alternative to living in the city, but still close enough to the city to go to their job that was in Dallas and live their life that was largely in Dallas, but they laid their head down at night in one of our suburbs.

For the record, Johnson is a Democrat, as is Laura Miller. Dallas voters lean heavily Democratic, unlike Texas as a whole. Now, getting back to those former bedroom communities:

JOHNSON: The reality is what used to be bedroom communities — Frisco, McKinney, Plano — are now legitimate cities in their own right. They’re developing entertainment options. They’re developing all the amenities that a city would have that doesn’t expect you to leave.

And if the residents of Frisco and McKinney and Plano don’t leave those places, then Dallas does not directly benefit.

JOHNSON: The city of Dallas has taxing jurisdiction within its city limits only, and every other municipality is the same. We don’t share any revenue. When an asset is physically located within the city of Dallas, we are able to tax it. And so there really is a competition for people and housing stock. We want it here.

But the suburbs have been winning, at least if you look at the rate of growth. Over the past decade, the population of Dallas itself grew 9 percent; the suburban counties to the north grew 36 percent. Cullum Clark again: 

CLARK: These very fast-growing suburban places are among the best places in America to build new real estate. 

DUBNER: And what makes these areas such a great place for new housing? 

CLARK: Well, I think it’s a combination of supply and demand coming together. On the supply side, these are communities that have, on the whole, really growth-oriented policies. In general, cities don’t necessarily like new housing. There’s always strong “not in my backyard” — NIMBY — sentiment. These are places that have generally had very pro-growth policies. It’s not like it’s not controversial. They still have big arguments in their city council meetings about zoning policy and whether to approve this or that new development. But net-net, they’ve been really growth-oriented. So the supply side is strong. And then the demand side — I would argue that these cities, they get the big three things that families are looking for really right: high-quality schools, affordable homes, and public safety.

So that’s the suburbs, where growth is particularly strong. Dallas itself, meanwhile, has lower-quality schools, less-affordable housing, and more crime. This city-suburb split will not surprise anyone who has ever lived in any American city or an American suburb. We talked with mayor Eric Johnson about the Dallas neighborhood where he grew up, historically a low-income, high-crime neighborhood with subpar schools.

JOHNSON: But there is now, on the edge of that area, some development that’s really exciting and it’s bringing a lot more economic development, but it’s also bringing a lot of concern. Folks are worried about being priced out. And I still have a lot of family — I have cousins and all that live there. The church I grew up in is there. If someone’s ready to move on and wants to cash in, I don’t want to stop people from being able to do that. But what I am concerned about is folks who want to stay, who can’t stay because property taxes are going up at a rate that they can’t keep up with. And if their property values are quadrupling or quintupling and their tax bill is too, you end up getting folks who may fall victim to one of those unscrupulous developers who wants to buy up a bunch of land to throw up some expensive condos.

And Cullum Clark again, talking about urban redevelopment more generally.

CLARK: What tends to be happening most of the time is either no new capital is coming into the place — nothing’s happening — or, alternatively, there’s a catastrophic flood of new capital that comes in and sweeps everything before it.

Clark and Johnson are both talking about a style and pace of gentrification where a poor neighborhood changes so fast that longtime residents can’t keep up.

CLARK: You all have seen in New York some of that in parts of Brooklyn. San Francisco’s seen a lot of that. D.C. In southern Dallas, the problem is clearly, for the most part, no new capital has come in in decades. And so the challenge is, how do you actually coax new capital to come in but not turn into a catastrophic flood that sweeps everything before it and displaces all the people who are already there? 

Clark is less concerned about gentrification in Dallas than Johnson is — at least for now. Because most of the capital isn’t flowing into Dallas; it’s going to the northern suburbs. This may not directly improve southern Dallas — but, Clark argues, it does help keep the whole region more affordable.

CLARK: The fact that there’s so many homes going up essentially means there’s less ferocious competition for scarce space within the city of Dallas. That acts as a pressure valve.

Between 2010 and 2020, just over half a million people moved to the Dallas–Fort Worth metro region from another state in the U.S. Many of them are living in the new homes Cullum Clark is talking about. What’s bringing them? A lot of this growth has come from corporate relocations. As of 2019, there were 44 Fortune 1,000 companies in the region, but only 16 of them within the city of Dallas. A number of big companies have moved their headquarters to the area within just the past five years: Toyota North America; Jacobs Engineering; the McKesson healthcare company; Coldwell Banker Richard Ellis, or C.B.R.E., real estate; the engineering, procurement, and construction firm Fluor,​​ and Charles Schwab. You’ll notice those firms don’t have much in common with one another: auto manufacturing, real estate, pharmaceuticals, financial services. That’s one sign that the Dallas–Fort Worth metro is humming; all kinds of companies want to be there. But only two of those companies — Jacobs and C.B.R.E. — have settled in Dallas proper. The rest are in the neighboring suburban cities. And Tenet Healthcare, which relocated to Dallas in 2004 from Los Angeles, just left Dallas for the suburb of Farmers Branch. I asked Cullum Clark to describe how the different cities in the region compete against one another for corporate relocations.

CLARK: Well, it’s a complex dynamic, Stephen, because the suburban cities vis-a-vis the city of Dallas are both partners and competitors.

DUBNER: Frenemies? 

CLARK: Frenemies. Yeah, they’re frenemies. And so it really is both good and bad for the city of Dallas to see this explosive growth in these suburban areas.

DUBNER: Do individual cities or counties compete against each other in terms of tax incentives and things like that that older cities historically use?

CLARK: Do they compete on the basis of tax incentives? To some degree, yes. But every one of them would tell you the same thing, Stephen. They would say that the tax incentive is a sideshow. The thing that we’re going to win or lose on, when we’re trying to attract families and attract employers — it’s the issues of affordable quality of life. It’s creating a place where people want to be. For example, in some of these northern suburban cities, when I’ve talked to people who are on the front lines, they will say, “You know, it used to be that we talked to people from the finance function of a company, or they’re trying to figure out where the cheap location can be had.” That’s not the case anymore. They’re increasingly talking to the human resources people, who know the kinds of talent that the company is trying to recruit, and they know where these kinds of people, particularly the younger ones, want to live. And they say, “Show me your neighborhood. Show me your walkable urban places that are interesting culturally diverse.” And if these cities don’t score high on that, they lose out. They’re also competing with each other in their schools.

And Eric Johnson again:

JOHNSON: As the mayor of Dallas, I have to be supportive, of course, of any win that the region gets in terms of a corporate relocation, but it really, really makes a difference whether or not that relocation occurs in the city of Dallas.

DUBNER: So do you find yourself competing with your nearby Dallas-area cities for corporate locations and offering tax incentives and so on? 

JOHNSON: We are absolutely competing with them, and I think we’re doing a good job. But what we have facing us is a challenge. The school system is something that people are definitely looking at when they’re making decisions about relocating. But the tax rate is another. We have to constantly make sure we’re not hurting ourselves from a competitive standpoint by taxing people out of our city. Obviously, we have to compete in things like infrastructure — it really hurts if people feel like the roads or the sidewalks in the suburbs are nicer than in the city. People care about that. 

You don’t have to be an economist to appreciate the idea that competition between Dallas, Fort Worth, and the other nearby cities is a good thing for the region overall. In fact, it may account for a lot of the overall growth. Because just as firms in competition tend to produce a better product, cities do too. That’s the theory, at least. I asked Eric Johnson for a recent example of where Dallas beat out its neighboring cities and landed a corporate relocation.

JOHNSON: We were successful in getting Uber to basically open a second headquarters here versus one of our suburbs. Uber prided itself on being a cutting-edge technology company where mobility and an urban environment was appealing to their employee base. There is a feel — a cultural feel to being in a major city, as opposed to being in a former bedroom community that has become a larger suburb, but still a suburb. If you really want live music and you want to be able to walk from a restaurant to an incredible downtown park and eat at a food truck and take in a show or something like that, that’s the city. If you want anything like real, genuine diversity from a socioeconomic standpoint, racial standpoint, and every other type of diversity, that’s really the city.

And I think a lot of folks who come from the coasts who are used to a more dense experience — Dallas is nowhere near as dense as our big coastal city competitors. So it feels like a good compromise for those folks. They’re looking to leave maybe the density of New York, or Chicago, or Philadelphia, or Los Angeles, but they’re not necessarily looking to go from that to Green Acres. So Dallas is a softer urban experience, but still an urban experience.

DUBNER: But I understand that with Uber, they had planned to have a huge office there, and then backed it way back — that there were supposed to be about 3,000 jobs in Dallas, and it ended up being more like 500, to the point where they even returned, I’ve read, $30 million of government incentives that were promised for those 3,000 jobs. So what happened there? 

JOHNSON: I mean, it’s pandemic-related. Let’s just call it what it is. This is about the pandemic impacting everybody’s economic plans. I mean, people just stopped taking Ubers.

DUBNER: So they’re still coming, but they’re just coming with just like a sixth of the workforce for now, at least? Correct?

JOHNSON: Correct. For the time being, that is the plan.

So the city of Dallas got Uber — sort of — but increasingly, Dallas is losing out to the fast-growing former bedroom communities to the north. Prime example: the city of Frisco, about 30 miles north of downtown Dallas. We made that drive, up to Frisco, met up with a man named Jason Ford.

FORD: If you go back just 35 years, we were a city of 6,000 people. For the last 10 years we’ve been just exploding with growth, and we’re now up to 215,000.

DUBNER: Wait a minute, from 6,000 to 215,000 — in how many years? 

FORD: Thirty-five years.

Ford is president of the Frisco Economic Development Corporation. His job is to build public-private partnerships and persuade corporations to relocate to Frisco. Ford is a transplant himself — from New Orleans, originally. Frisco, he points out, is hardly the only city nearby to have grown very fast.

FORD: There are 15 cities over 100,000 people in North Texas.

And Frisco is the one we’ve come to visit today. It is one of the best examples of a former suburb that’s starting to outshine its core city. Coming up after the break: we’ll hear what Frisco’s done right. And we’ll ask: if the Texas brand of conservative politics is so detestable to non-conservatives, why are so many of them moving to Texas?

*      *      *

We’ve just arrived in Frisco, Texas, a fast-growing city outside of Dallas that recently put up a 350,000-square-foot corporate headquarters for Keurig-Dr Pepper. This is one of two headquarters for the company — the other is in Massachusetts — but this counts as Frisco’s first Fortune 500 headquarters. You should not bet on it being the last. Just how fast has Frisco grown? As recently as the 1980s, most of the area was farmland; there was one high school and 6,000 people. Today: 11 high schools, with a twelfth on the way, and more than 200,000 people.

FORD: So we add, on average, about a thousand people per month in Frisco.

That, again, is Jason Ford, who runs Frisco’s Economic Development Corporation. We’re standing on the sidewalk in the midst of Frisco’s crown jewel; it’s called the Star District.

FORD: This is a mixed-use development developed by Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys.

The Dallas Cowboys, if you don’t know, are a National Football League franchise said to be worth nearly $6 billion, which makes them the most valuable sports franchise in the world. This is particularly impressive considering they haven’t won a Super Bowl in 25 years. The real-estate developer Jerry Jones bought the team in 1989 for $140 million, and he has marketed them brilliantly; he married the game of football with the game of real estate in a way that few others could dream. Years ago, the Cowboys declared themselves “America’s Team”; their logo is a big star that looks as if it just jumped off an American flag. And that logo is everywhere in Dallas — including here, in Frisco’s new $1.5 billion Star District.

FORD: This is a 92-acre development. There’s over a million square feet. You’ve got offices. You’ve got restaurants and bars, retail and shopping. You’ve got hospitality, with the luxury hotel here on the corner. You’ve got healthcare, both tied to clinical and sports training.  

The Star District feels like a mix of bustling community center, suburban park, and the nicest outdoor mall you’ve ever seen.

FORD: Every part of this project has some ties back to Jerry Jones, the Jones family or their organization. 

The Star District is also home to Dallas Cowboys practice facilities and offices, as well as the Cowboys Club, a private club and restaurant for Frisco’s sporting and business elite.

FORD: Jerry got a sweetheart deal on the land. But I’ll tell you, he under-promises and over-delivers. Originally, the investment was in the neighborhood of about $250 million. And today it is multiples of that. 

Other big names are flooding into Frisco. The P.G.A. of America — that’s the Professional Golfers’ Association — is relocating its headquarters here from Florida. This will be the anchor of a 600-acre mixed-use development that includes three golf courses and a massive Omni resort — among the biggest resorts currently under development in the U.S. All these amenities are making Frisco less a bedroom community and more of a destination.

FORD: It’s very infrequent that we have to go to Dallas. It’s easy to stay within our 10- to 20-minute drive and have virtually everything that we need on a day-to-day basis.

You are probably familiar with the “new car smell”? Well, Frisco has a certain “new city smell.”

FORD: So we’re about to build a new $75 million public-private partnership performing arts center. Why? Because the Fortune 500 headquarters want that. We need those arts for our students in the educational system. Our entire city is a laboratory. We’ve now had six public-private partnerships with tech companies that come in and test new solutions here in Frisco. Drive.ai, which is now Apple, tested their autonomous ridesharing platform here. FedEx tested their new robots here. Google just recently announced through Wing, the first place in a major urban center where they’re going to test package deliveries using drones.

DUBNER: What about the Frisco economy or infrastructure makes that so attractive to those firms? 

FORD: We have a culture of saying yes within government. And what that means is: where we can help the private sector bring solutions to help make things cheaper, quicker, easier, and more efficient for the residents.  

DUBNER: So here’s the thing: I don’t know if I’m going to move to Texas. I would like you to move to New York because I would like you to bring that kind of thinking to a place like that. Just think what we could do together.

FORD: I don’t know. I’m kind of partial to Frisco.

DUBNER: I understand that. But seriously, let’s say I’m from the Economic Development Corp. of New York City, and I come to you and say, “Wow, I recognize that the reason you’re able to be so good at these things is because you are smaller, because you are nimble, because you are newer. We’re not those things. And we still want to accomplish the same thing, which is make our area more attractive for more people, for more reasons. Can you give us any pointers?” 

FORD: The first thing is you’ve got to look long-term and not focus on the short-term politics. And that is so difficult where everyone’s looking for that win by the next election. Somehow, we have figured out the recipe here to look for policy before politics and really just doing the right thing.

But I asked Jason Ford if Frisco keeps doing the right thing, as he puts it, won’t that leave the city of Dallas in the dust?

FORD: We still need Dallas. Dallas still has the major urban centers that we need in terms of some of the amenities that some of the executives still always look for. 

DUBNER: But it sounds like you’re replacing them up here. 

FORD: What’s interesting is that Frisco tends to compete more with the other suburbs than it does Dallas proper. We have different features. For instance, we don’t have urban transit here, so a project that oftentimes might want urban transit might look for a Dallas solution. So they’re not going to look in the suburbs.   

The energy in Frisco definitely feels more suburban than urban. But Jason Ford warns me: don’t underestimate the intensity. And that, he says, is what a lot of firms are looking for when they’re considering a relocation.

FORD: It’s not just about the lowest cost and lowest regulation. They also want to be someplace that’s great for talent, and being in an ecosystem which has a lot of startups and a lot of vibrancy around innovation helps them to attract and retain talent.

As Ford tells it, there’s startup fever in the air. He points across the way to the Cowboys’ Club that he says we may stop by later.

FORD: And if you think about things like the Cowboys Club, which is probably one of the top deal-making locations in North Texas, this little coffee shop right behind us, very unassuming, is a place where probably just as many deals are done. It’s really a very approachable place where entrepreneurs and investors can connect. 

DUBNER: Now, Texas laws being what they are, I could have an unconcealed gun and walk into here, yeah?

FORD: Well, there’s a lot of open carry, but I’d say probably a lot more people conceal where they can.

DUBNER: Are you packing right now?

FORD: No, I do not pack.

We decide to pop into Ascension Coffee to see just what kind of deal-making is going down. It is a cheerful, well-decorated space with $5 lattes; it wouldn’t feel out of place at all in D.C. or California or New York. There are two guys sitting at a table, waiting for their coffees. They’re dressed business-casual; one is maybe in his mid-40s, the other quite a bit younger; their body language suggests they may indeed be having the kind of deal-making conversation Jason Ford was describing. So I go over, introduce myself, tell them what I’m doing here with Jason.

DUBNER: Jason was just mentioning that at the Cowboys Club, a lot of deals get done, but that given the nature of Frisco, just as many deals get done at this coffee shop. So, you guys looked like you were working on something interesting.

Chad GRIGGS: We’re talking Georgia football.

DUBNER: Okay. So you’re not planning some multibillion-dollar development here?

GRIGGS: No. But I would tell you, you’re absolutely right that the Cowboys Club would be where a lot of that happens.

DUBNER: Do you guys mind introducing yourselves?

GRIGGS: I’m Chad Griggs. I’m a commercial insurance broker.

DUBNER: You’re from here originally or no?

GRIGGS: No, but I’ve been in Frisco since ’96. So I’m a pioneer, basically.

DUBNER: And where we’re sitting right now would have been what?

GRIGGS: This was a field.

DUBNER: Gotcha. And what’s your story?

Joel JOHNSON: I’m Joel Johnson. I work for an insurance-claims company. I’ve been in Dallas nine years, been in Frisco for two.

DUBNER: And are you guys hatching some big new insurance plan to change the whole industry?

GRIGGS: Change the world? I’d love to say yes, but the answer is no.

JOHNSON: Yeah, that would be nice. But I don’t think so. 

DUBNER: So make your best pitch for why a guy like me should move to Dallas or Frisco.

JOHNSON: No state taxes.

GRIGGS: It’s very red.

DUBNER: Yeah. You like the red?

GRIGGS: I like the red.

DUBNER: You’re happy with the red? Yeah.

GRIGGS: I like the red. It’s less blue than red, which is a good thing.

DUBNER: Nice to talk to you guys. Thank you so much for your time. Thank you very much.

JOHNSON: If we reinvent fire, we’ll let you know.

Okay, so we didn’t stumble upon some big deal-making, but we did stumble into one of the issues that the very word “Texas” brings to mind these days for a lot of people, especially people who don’t live here: just how red is this place? Texas recently passed an instantly infamous abortion ban — and put the power of enforcement on its citizens, a move that to many non-Texans felt very Wild Westy. When statehouse Republicans proposed to tighten the state’s voting rules — a move Democrats saw as patently pro-Republican — a few dozen Democratic legislators decided to flee en masse to Washington, D.C. They wanted to forestall the quorum the Republicans would need to pass the legislation and get Congress to pass national voting legislation that would override the Texas proposal. But Congress didn’t pass the national legislation; the Texas Democrats had to fly home eventually; and the Republican voting legislation went through. So it’s easy to picture Texas as a conservative stronghold, up and down the line. On the other hand, dozens of big companies have been relocating here, especially to Dallas and Austin and Houston, often from places that aren’t particularly conversative. So: what’s happening in Texas?

CLARK: What’s happening in Texas is a microcosm of what’s happening in large parts of America. 

That, again, is the economist Cullum Clark.

CLARK: The core cities are very blue. The small-town and rural areas are very, very deep red. And the suburban areas are purple and trending a little bit bluer as time goes by. The whole Texas population now is 29-point-something million. But something on the order of 12 million of those people live in purple suburban areas in the major metropolitan areas — a really big part of the state population lives in places that are really quite purple.

The city of Dallas, as we mentioned earlier, is overwhelmingly Democratic. In the 2020 elections, only 33 percent of Dallas voted Republican. And what about the booming suburban cities like Frisco? Here’s an amazing statistic that shores up what Clark just told us. In the year 2000, 73 percent of voters in Collin County, where most of Frisco is situated, went Republican; by 2020, the Republican vote dropped from 73 percent to 51 percent. This of course coincides with the huge population surge in Frisco. A lot of the newcomers are plainly not Republican — nor, apparently, were they dissuaded by moving to a state that’s known to be very Republican. Jason Ford again:

FORD: Collin County, because of so many headquarters that have moved here and because so many people have migrated from all over the country for great jobs, is becoming a very ethnically and culturally diverse area. And Frisco is no exception to that.

In the year 2000, Frisco was 81 percent white — about what you’d expect for suburban Dallas. At the time, whites made up 71 percent of the statewide population. But just 20 years later, the statewide population had dropped from 71 percent white to 50 percent. And the white population in Frisco dropped from 81 percent to 57 percent. Asians and Asian-Americans are now the second-largest group in Frisco, at 21 percent; and 12 percent of Frisco residents are Latino or Hispanic.

FORD: We’re becoming a major urban city. And so how do we make that transition? We’ve got to embrace it and find ways to make them part of the community.

DUBNER: And do you welcome each of them with a handshake and a little muffin basket?

FORD: Well, we do our best. We are certainly a very inclusive and welcoming community. Our city council has put together councils, commissions, boards in order to make sure that the community can participate. To find ways to welcome any of these new residents because they’re bringing with them new cultures, new values. We started to see more diverse restaurants moving in, more diverse retailers. We started to see, obviously, different churches and synagogues and different experiences religiously. And so one of the ways that we can integrate them is to bring them into city council. We will invite different cultures to come and open our city council meetings with a prayer that perhaps the community is unaware of — bring some familiarity and make them feel welcome, and have a chance to celebrate these other cultures as well. 

 When you see how a place like Frisco is changing — from rural, deep-red to big-suburban purple — in such a short time, you do wonder how the old white majority will feel. Our friends at Ascension Coffee, for instance, who like it here because it’s red. There will be change, that’s for sure. But that’s what cities do, that’s what they’re built to do: take in the new, change again and again, learn from the past, and charge toward the future. But is Frisco a city, in that sense, or just a suburb on steroids? Or maybe it’s something new altogether — a new model that may account for why places like the Dallas–Fort Worth metro have been booming the past few decades while older, more traditional cities are struggling. Here’s what Cullum Clark told us last week when we asked why this region has been attracting more newcomers than anywhere else in the U.S.

CLARK: There are three things that have made all the difference. One is offering relatively affordable, high quality of life. Secondly, being an exceptionally welcoming place to newcomers of all kinds. And third, operating more or less commerce-friendly, growth-friendly policies, particularly in the suburban areas.

If you’re someone who’s accustomed to thinking about cities, those goals may sound incompatible. Growth and affordability? Welcoming all those newcomers without displacing the people who grew up here? I thought back to a conversation I’d had the previous night, at a restaurant back in the city of Dallas. I said hello to a man and woman wearing Dallas Cowboys gear.

DESHAWN: I’m DeShawn, and I’m — we’re self-employed.

DUBNER: Okay. What does that mean?

MAN: We own a barbershop.

DESHAWN: And a trucking company.

MAN: A tattoo shop and a trucking company now.

DUBNER: You work together, the two of you?

DESHAWN: Yes, we do.

DUBNER: And you’re a couple?

DESHAWN: We’re engaged!

DUBNER: Congratulations. Let me see. Whoa, you’ve been cutting a lot of hair! That’s a nice ring. You grew up here?

MAN: Grew up here, born and raised in Dallas. Forty-six years.

DESHAWN: Forty-four for me.

MAN: Yeah, Dallas, they have a lot of people move here. There’s a lot of people moving here for jobs, and they put up — you can’t see our downtown anymore, so many high-rise apartments are going up.

DESHAWN: So many high rises.

DUBNER: How do you feel about all the growth as natives?

DESHAWN: Me personally, I don’t like it. I’m just being honest. It’s too congested for me, for what we’re used to.

MAN: The downtown area, yeah.

DESHAWN: Yeah, the downtown area is just too congested. I’m the type of person, I don’t like a lot of crowds. But other than that, the city is nice. But if you’ve been here for so long, sometimes you want a little change, but we would never move just to get out of it. But other than that, it’s home.

And now, back in the Star District in Frisco, we finally make it to the Cowboys Club. There doesn’t seem to be much deal-making going on here, either — it’s nearly empty — but we do run into someone with a lot of energy, the kind of energy that I’m accustomed to, as a New Yorker.

Stacy BOWERS: My name is Stacy Bowers. I’m director of operations.

DUBNER: And how long have you lived here?

BOWERS: Five.

DUBNER: Okay, so tell me this. Let’s pretend you’re a New Yorker.

BOWERS: I lived in New York as well.

DUBNER: Okay, so let’s pretend you’re thinking about Dallas and/or Frisco. They’re coming up, plainly.

BOWERS: Yes.

DUBNER: I’m not saying New York is declining, but, you know.

BOWERS: Sure, you don’t have to say it. I was just there.

DUBNER: Okay, so you’ll say it, all right. So what would be your top three reasons to relocate from New York to Dallas or Frisco?

BOWERS: Opportunity growth. You’d have to have a ton of patience.

DUBNER: Oh, I’m not so good with that. Do you have any ideas for how to develop that?

BOWERS: No, because I don’t have any, either, and I still sometimes cry myself to sleep because I live here. I lived in London, New York, and Los Angeles. So this is very different. I don’t see hills. I don’t see trees. I don’t see the ocean. I don’t feel the energy of a city.

DUBNER: You’re not selling that well, I got to tell you.

BOWERS: Did you want me to sell it?

DUBNER: I’m just asking. I just asked you an honest question. I’m getting an honest answer. You know, Jason over here is getting very anxious because —.

BOWERS: Well, listen, I think anyone who has an opportunity to move from a big city to anywhere would definitely do that in Frisco.

DUBNER: Let me flip the question: what’s one thing about New York that you think I would just miss terribly, that I can’t replicate, out of all the wonderful things about Frisco?

BOWERS: I think it’s restaurants. I think you’re going to have those in about two years. I think it’s that community, but I think that there’s a huge thing that’s happening in Texas and Frisco in general. There are so many hospitalitarians and chefs that are moving everything to Texas.

DUBNER: Is that a word? I love that word, “hospitalitarians.”

BOWERS: Yes. If it’s not, then I coined it, and you can use that.

DUBNER: It’s great to have met you. Thank you so much.

BOWERS: Nice to meet you!

I don’t think I’m quite ready to move to Texas. I’m definitely not ready to cry myself to sleep at night. But after spending a little bit of time here, it’s easy to see why so many people are moving. As Cullum Clark said, they’ve gotten a lot of things right. It’s imperfect, of course; what place isn’t? But the Dallas-Fort Worth metro is proving to be so many things for so many people. Again, that’s what cities do. It reminds me of the most famous passage from the poem “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman, my fellow New Yorker: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself. (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” But when I try to think about how all this will turn out — the future of Frisco, and Dallas, and Texas — I think of a lesser-known passage from the same poem: “You are also asking me questions and I hear you. I answer that I cannot answer, you must find out for yourself.” I would like to find out for myself what happens here. I will be back to visit, that’s for sure. If the next 20 years are even half as interesting as the past 20, there will be so much to see, and learn. Thanks for making this trip with us. We’ll be back next week with more Freakonomics Radio; until then, take care of yourself and, if you can, someone else too.

*      *      *

Freakonomics Radio is produced by Stitcher and Dubner Productions. This episode was produced by Ryan Kelley. We had help this week from Jeremy Johnston and Zorric Sia. Our staff also includes Alison CraiglowGreg Rippin, Zack Lapinski, Mary Diduch, Rebecca Lee Douglas, Morgan Levey, Jasmin Klinger, Eleanor Osborne, Emma Tyrrell, Lyric Bowditch, and Jacob Clemente. Our theme song is “Mr. Fortune,” by the Hitchhikers; the rest of the music this week was composed by Luis Guerra. You can follow Freakonomics Radio on Apple PodcastsSpotifyStitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Read full Transcript

Sources

  • Cullum Clark, professor of economics at Southern Methodist University and director of the Bush Institute-S.M.U. Economic Growth Initiative.
  • Jason Ford, president of the Frisco Economic Development Corporation.
  • Eric Johnson, Mayor of Dallas.
  • Laura Miller, former Mayor of Dallas.

Resources

Extras

Comments