Major Acquisitions Position Allen As One Of DFW's Top Tech Hubs
A suburb north of Dallas is becoming a prominent tech hub following a string of high-profile acquisitions.
As tech companies look to lay down roots in DFW, many are choosing Allen, a city of just over 100,000 people. Its location north of Richardson’s Telecom Corridor as well as its robust pipeline of workers is helping to convince tech companies they should choose Allen over other local cities, said Dan Bowman, executive director and CEO of the city’s Economic Development Corp.
“We’ve seen the talent here just continue to ramp up,” he said. “And the companies are following that talent.”
New data from the EDC shows more than 15% of the local workforce is made up of high-tech employees, which exceeds the national average of about 11%. The total number of tech jobs in the city has increased by 7.3% over the past decade, more than four times the national rate, per the EDC.
Bowman said the evolution of Allen’s tech industry is linked to DFW’s financial services sector. Technology needed to support the industry led to an increase of fintech companies, including Experian and Jack Henry & Associates, which opened in Allen about 10 years ago. Since then, tech companies of all kinds have either started in or migrated to the city.
“We’ve found this huge plethora of different types of technologies that have come to Allen that’s not just one specific sector,” he said. “Cybersecurity, fintech, hardware and software for banks and financial services have all grown up here.”
The movement of tech companies into Allen is indicative of a larger DFW trend. A first-quarter report from Cushman & Wakefield listed DFW as the nation’s seventh-largest tech employment market, edging out all other cities in the state, including Austin, which is widely thought of as the Silicon Valley of Texas.
“It’s a hot industry, and it’s definitely grown throughout time,” Cushman Director of Texas Research Ching-Ting Wang said in a previous Bisnow interview. “That’s driven by relocations and how things are cheaper here, but it’s also because we already have some of these companies here and tenants want to be close to similar types of tenants.”
Over the past few years, a slew of born-and-bred Allen companies have been acquired by tech giants across the country, including Netflix and Motorola Solutions, which bought Boss Fight Entertainment in March and WatchGuard Inc. in 2019, respectively.
“You’ve got a real incubator in Allen, Texas, for the growth of tech firms,” Bowman said. “The talent here is creating new and innovative lines of work that are drawing the attention of a global audience and increasing the market share and viability of massive companies.”
Allen company Brass Roots Technologies, which specializes in engineering design of advanced optics and electronics for high-performance display and imaging systems, was acquired by Christie Digital Systems USA in mid-May. Frank Poradish moved Brass Roots from neighboring Plano to Allen in 2021 and said it will remain there under the Christie name.
“Us being here in Allen, near Texas Instruments, where some of the core technology comes from, is a good thing,” Poradish told the EDC. “If you want to find someone with a particular set of skills, they exist here in North Texas.”
James Mirfin, global head of digital identity and fraud solutions for Refinitiv, said the company chose to acquire Allen-based GIACT in part due to its employees.
“We bought the business as much for the products and technology as the people that ran those and built those,” he said. “There’s a quite unique skill set that was in the business.”
Refinitiv has ramped up hiring since purchasing GIACT in 2020, Mirfin said. The company now employs more than 100 people at its Allen office, many of whom have been sourced locally. The city is as good for recruitment as it is for retainment, Mirfin said. Allen boasts all of the amenities of a large city without many of the headaches associated with dense urban living, he added.
“Two years [into] the pandemic, you’ve got a lot of people who have started to realize that they don’t necessarily have to live in a big metro,” Mirfin said. “You can actually live in places where it’s slightly more affordable, you’ve got a shorter commute and access to facilities and things for your family.”
Allen ISD is working to ensure local tech companies have a ready pool of employees to pull from by investing in its science, technology, engineering, art and math curriculum. In 2019 the district opened a STEAM Center, which serves up to 18,000 students from pre-K through 12th grade each year. Partnerships with local robotics and computer science executives also expose students to Allen’s tech industry, said Daniel Soliz, director of AISD’s student services and CCMR.
“We’re constantly looking to improve our student experience,” Soliz told the EDC. “I think this comprehensive approach that we’re taking is going to help us embed those experiences early.”
For the EDC’s part, Bowman said his staff works diligently to recruit tech companies to the city. The city uses a portion of its sales tax revenue to fund the EDC, which Bowman said is now in excess of about $12M per year. Some of that goes toward incentives for new and existing businesses. Of the 149 projects the Allen EDC supported since its inception, 38% of them were tech-related, according to Bowman’s office.
“We take a very methodical approach to how we look at incentives, and we don’t offer them lightly,” he said. “Our goal is to find the right companies that are in the right place in their growth, and tech firms are a target industry right at the top of the list.”
The city of Allen also garners property tax revenue through its local tech industry, and Bowman said some of that revenue was lost during the pandemic as space demands of tech companies changed. But in the long term, Bowman said Allen has the advantage of a growing population on its side — census estimates released in March showed Collin County added 36,313 new residents between July 2020 and July 2021, making it the second-fastest-growing county in the U.S.
“People have the ability now to work from wherever they want, so they’re going to want to work in places that are closer to their homes,” he said. “The Allen area of Collin County is where people are moving.”