From Lockheed to Alliance, signs of Kay Granger’s economic impact abound

dfwnewsa | November 26, 2023 | 1 | Dallas News , Fort Worth , Fort Worth News

From Lockheed to Alliance, signs of Kay Granger’s economic impact abound
U.S. Rep. Kay Granger speaks at a World Economic Forum event in 2013. Since her election in 1997, Granger has risen to become one of the top women leaders in the House of Representatives. (Courtesy World Economic Forum | Benedikt von Loebell)

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In 1988, when Ross Perot Jr. began to implement his vision for Alliance Airport and the 27,000 acres then north of Fort Worth, there were plenty of issues to work through.

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Mike Berry, now president of Hillwood, the company behind that project, took the plans for the development to the city’s zoning commission to shepherd the many annexation and zoning details through various legal requirements.

Leading the zoning commission was a young former schoolteacher and small businesswoman just beginning her political career: Kay Granger. 

“That happened under her watch,” said Berry, recalling those days 35 years ago. “I think my facts are correct, that at that time, that was the largest single annexation by a city in the state of Texas,” he said. “It was a big deal, and she was there.” 

AllianceTexas, now part of Fort Worth, is home to over 560 companies. It has generated $111 billion in regional economic impact and created 66,000 direct jobs, according to its latest report from March of this year.

With the announcement that Granger, R-Fort Worth, will not seek reelection for a 15th term in Congress, local leaders say they know she will be difficult to replace, personally, professionally and as a champion of economic development. 

“Congresswoman Granger has been a tireless advocate for our region’s economic growth, job creation and business prosperity,” said Steve Montgomery, president and CEO of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, in a statement. “Her leadership has been instrumental in capturing opportunities for Fort Worth and ensuring our national security. She will leave an enduring legacy in our community.”  

Jim Riddlesperger, professor of political science at TCU, said Granger’s influence and clout have often been underestimated. 

“When she voted against Rep. Jim Jordan as speaker of the House, I noticed the national media called her a ‘veteran legislator,’” he said. “That’s wrong. She’s one of the most — if not the — most important legislators in the country.” 

As chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, Riddlesperger said, Granger is key to the $5 trillion that flows through the federal government. 

“That all has to be approved by her committee,” he said. “If what we care about is what we attach money to, Kay Granger is the most important member of Congress.” 

And, he notes, she sees to it that an ample supply of those funds ends up in North Texas. 

Granger’s career trajectory — from City Council member to mayor to congresswoman — has been key to Fort Worth’s and North Texas’ economic development, said Chris Wallace, president and CEO of the North Texas Commission, a public-private partnership that tackles issues in the 13-county North Texas area.  

“She’s earned her powerful position now. She’s earned it through her ability to convene and to collaborate with her colleagues,” he said. “You ask people on either side of the aisle and they’ll tell you that.” 

Berry said Granger’s experience has been key to not just finding funding but in knowing what complex projects require to move forward.

“Rep. Granger has been there as head of the zoning commission, to being a Council member to being mayor and then, of course, as a congresswoman and now head of the Appropriations Committee,” said Berry. “She knows the Alliance project and knows what it needs.” 

Most recently, she helped with funding for the 2018 expansion of the airport’s runways, which allowed for larger cargo planes. The $260 million project involved funding from the Federal Aviation Administration, as well as state and local agencies. Planning for the project began as far back as 1992, Berry said. 

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“It took us a long time, but without her leadership, we would have never gotten the Alliance airport runway expansion project completed,” he said. 

That expansion spurred new growth and development, Berry said.  

“FedEx expanded because of it, and Amazon wouldn’t be there at Alliance with their big air hub had that expansion not happened,” he said. “It helped to have someone like Granger, who knows the project when you’re doing something as complex as that, which requires the coordination of local, state and federal funding.” 

One of the key economic issues that Granger faced as mayor was the potential closure of Carswell Air Force Base, which had been in operation since World War II. With the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, several bases across the country were being shut down, and Carswell was targeted for closure due to budget cuts.

Fort Worth officials fought to keep the base, and it was recommissioned as the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, the first-ever joint reserve command, serving not just the Navy but all branches of the U.S. military. According to a report from the Texas Comptroller’s office, the base contributed at least $2.6 billion to the Texas economy in 2021.

“That was key for Fort Worth, not just economically, but that base is a part of our history with the military, part of our identity, which really dates back to our origins as a fort,” said Riddlesperger. 

Not all of Granger’s economic development efforts have received universal support, Riddlesperger said. He pointed to the Panther Island project, which she championed — sometimes controversially — for years. 

But in general, Riddlesperger said, Granger has been seen as less partisan and more as someone who wants to get things done. 

“That’s unusual now. Most of the people in Congress are highly partisan and that’s not how Granger does things,” he said. “She’s a very practical politician.”

As a result, she is going to be difficult to replace, he said.

“Anyone with that much experience, that much clout, well, you don’t find those people easily,” he said.

Hillwood’s Berry agreed. 

“You can’t really replace that kind of tenure and leadership,” he said. “We’ll have to find a new candidate, and they’ll start up the ladder.”  

 Hillwood is a financial supporter of the Fort Worth Report. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at bob.francis@fortworthreport.org.

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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