Is Wichita Falls the best-kept secret in Texas? A number of business and community leaders in the city think so, and they’d like to change that.
A city of 105,000 people 115 miles northwest of Fort Worth and 15 miles south of Oklahoma, Wichita Falls sits at the heart of the busiest trade corridor in the South Central US. Equidistant to Dallas and Oklahoma City, Wichita Falls boasts a diversified economy that is growing even as Texas’ oil and gas industry slows down.
“About 30 percent of our industry is related to aerospace,” says Henry Florsheim, president and CEO of the Wichita Falls Chamber of Commerce. “With Pratt & Whitney, Alcoa Howmet, Sheppard Air Force Base and others, we are an aviation community. We are a strong manufacturing community with a strong workforce.”
Employers in Wichita Falls agree. Britt Gourley, interim president and CEO of Amfuel, which makes fuel tanks for helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, says his firm selected Wichita Falls because of the favorable business climate in Texas, reasonable wages and a workable regulatory environment.
“There is greater aerospace expertise in Wichita Falls, and that is very important for an aerospace company like ours,” says Gourley, whose firm just opened a 110,000-sq.-ft. plant on the Central Freeway near town. “A lot of aerospace expertise is located throughout North Texas. I would call it a very positive and hungry workforce with a strong work ethic. People have the desire to work here. They are also very cooperative and flexible.”
The first workers arrived at Amfuel on March 1. About 40 employees work there now and the staff will soon grow to 300, says Gourley. “We will add 10 to 15 employees per month and that will accelerate in 2017. We will also move the corporate headquarters from Magnolia, Arkansas, to Wichita Falls in the next three months.”
Amfuel considered locations in Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and other cities in North Texas before choosing Wichita Falls. “It became clear pretty quickly that we liked being close to Dallas,” Gourley says. “A lot of professional technical talent was there. Wichita Falls has a significant university — Midwestern State — that we could utilize for technical talent. We enjoy the cost-of-living advantage and the lifestyle here too. It is a great environment.”
Hot Market for STEM Workers
Ron Duncan, president and partner of Magic Aire, which makes air conditioners that are sold to commercial contractors, says, “We have an incredible workforce in the area. We have been here since 1935 and we’ve been making air conditioners since 1955. We have 100 employees here; about 40 percent of them are engineers or other STEM workers. We specialize in design and process improvement, so we need a high-caliber workforce.”
Duncan adds that “we also have assembly workers and sheet metal workers. It is not hard to find a young engineer or other young professionals. The work ethic in Wichita Falls is great. When we need to find people, this is a good place for that. It is also a great place to raise a family — and just 2 hours away from Dallas. My commute is about 12 minutes. Where else can you find that?”
Magic Aire regularly hires graduates and interns from Midwestern State University. “Plus, Texas is a very friendly state,” Duncan says. “We have permits that we file for environmental quality. The city is very responsive on code compliance. They try to minimize the impact on the employer.”
Duncan also likes the vibe of Wichita Falls. “I am a bicyclist. I love the culture of bicycling around here. About 15,000 people come here each year for the Hotter Than Hell Race in August. We love it here.”
Putting Perot Lessons to Work
Tim Morris, founding partner of GuideIT, says that “when we decided to start a new IT firm, we wanted to be strategic about selecting locations in the US instead of going offshore to India.”
That search led GuideIT to Wichita Falls. “We wanted to be within three to four hours of our headquarters in Plano,” says Morris. “We wanted a good business college that offered MIS programs. We wanted a nursing school. We narrowed our search to San Angelo, Temple, Tyler and Wichita Falls. We wanted to be able to lower our costs and be more efficient. We found the chamber and economic development group in Wichita Falls to be easy to work with. We liked the community and the university. Real estate is less expensive here than it is in Plano. The incentives were the icing on the cake.”
The Perot company based in Plano announced March 1 that it will expand to Wichita Falls and add 91 jobs.
“We wanted it to be accessible to Dallas. From a cost perspective, it needed to be affordable,” says Morris. “GuideIT has 125 employees now, and we have been profitable in years two and three. We are located in the Energy Center Building in the CBD of Wichita Falls at about half the price of real estate in North Dallas. We expect our Wichita Falls location to grow even faster than our Plano office. We plan to double our revenue every year for the next five to 10 years.”