The Dallas Morning News
In HQ2 race, Dallas has higher-ed pros, cons
By some measures, higher education is Dallas’ great weakness in the Amazon sweepstakes.
The region still doesn’t have a true Tier One research university, which is a staple in most major metro areas. It’s also a laggard in educational attainment.
Just over 1 in 3 millennials in North Texas have a college degree, which ranks the area next to last among the metros selected as finalists for Amazon’s next headquarters.
In Boston and the Washington area, over half the 25- to 34-year-olds have a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to a recent report. New York, Denver and Austin also scored well ahead of Dallas-Fort Worth on this metric.
“The cream of the millennial crop is not evenly spread across the landscape — as hard as local communities try to upgrade the skills of residents or attract talented young adults from elsewhere,” wrote William Frey, a demographer and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
His recent report “Where do the most educated millennials live?” looked at college degrees and millennials for the largest 100 metro areas. Just over half of the top 20 made Amazon’s short list. All but three finalists placed among the top 40 nationwide, he wrote.
On the outside were Los Angeles, Dallas-Fort Worth (47th) and Miami.
Last month, Amazon named 20 finalists for HQ2 and said it expected to select a winning location this year. It plans to eventually hire up to 50,000 highly paid employees, so it puts a priority on talent and education.
“A highly educated labor pool is critical, and a strong university system is required,” Amazon wrote in its request for proposals for HQ2.
Fortunately for Dallas, other trends paint a stronger picture of higher education here. The region is producing many more college graduates, especially in technology.
And Dallas has become a top magnet for educated workers, thanks to a strong economy and affordable cost of living.
The region’s growth rate has outpaced the nation’s and many rival metros. Atlanta, for instance, added almost 59,000 college-educated millennials in the last decade. D-FW added twice as many over the same period, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
“What Dallas has working in its favor is the ability to attract talent from outside the region,” said Colin Yasukochi, director of research and analysis for CBRE, which produces an annual report on tech talent in North America.
In the 2017 report, D-FW ranked second for “brain gain,” behind only the San Francisco Bay area. That metric is the difference between the number of tech degrees awarded and tech jobs created.
Among the finalists for Amazon HQ2, Dallas led with a brain gain of over 22,000. Boston and Washington, which are leaders in college degrees, lost thousands of graduates to other cities.
Yasukochi wouldn’t discuss specific companies, including Amazon, but said this trend can be argued two ways. Boston can say that it has ample talent for growing companies, and Dallas can point to its record of both producing more graduates and pulling in outsiders.
“You don’t have to educate all the talent that companies are seeking to hire,” Yasukochi said. “If you have an environment that attracts people to move to your area, that can be a tremendous advantage.”
It’s not surprising that cities with major universities tend to have a well-educated workforce. Raleigh, N.C., Austin and Columbus, Ohio, are among the Amazon finalists with a big edge over D-FW on share of millennials with a college degree.
But the total number of such workers, not just percentages, makes a difference, too. That’s particularly true with HQ2 because it’s hiring so many.
In 2016, D-FW had almost 377,000 millennials with a college degree. That’s far more than Raleigh (91,000), Austin (163,000) and Columbus (129,000).
Dallas has a similar size advantage on specific tech jobs. It has twice as many application software developers as Austin and three times more than Raleigh, according to Joshua Wright of Emsi.
Washington scores high on both total college graduates and share with a degree. It also has three HQ2 finalists from the same region — the District of Columbia, northern Virginia and Montgomery County, Md.
Compared with D-FW, the Washington metro area had almost 122,000 more collegeeducated millennials in 2016. And the growth rate for that group matches D-FW’s over the last decade, despite its larger size.
Colleges near Washington produced twice as many tech degrees as Dallas in 2014-15 and had a big edge in total tech jobs, according to CBRE. All that, combined with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ presence in Washington, make it a formidable competitor for HQ2.
But Dallas has some underappreciated strengths, especially in diversity, said Frey of the Brookings Institution. In a separate report, he examined where millennials were gathering.