One is known for oil derricks, cattle drives and J.R. Ewing, and the other for whirling dervishes, the Silk Road and opulent architecture.
Expectations are a funny thing, especially when one gets to experience it first-hand. Last August, I accompanied a group of my fellow Texans to Turkey, full of our own set of expectations that we had to let go of. We expected an ancient civilization with roots as deep as the foundation of Hagia Sophia; we found a vibrant economy as bustling as Taksim Square. We expected a unique culture steeped in the traditions of both the East and the West; we found a dynamic and progressive society on the cutting edge of innovation in technology and manufacturing. We expected a regional leader; we found an emerging powerhouse on the European stage with global ambitions. After only a few days, we realized that we needed to recalibrate our expectations.
Although Turkey’s many unfamiliar sights and experiences took our breath away, it was Turkey’s similarities to North Texas -- the Dallas-Fort Worth region -- that amazed us the most. Both North Texas and Turkey have large, robust and growing economies; indeed, if North Texas was its own country, its gross domestic product (GDP) would be 26th in the world, only a few spots behind Turkey’s rank of 17th. Just as Turkey is a gateway to Europe and Asia, we see Texas as a gateway to North America, from the snowy plains of Canada to the tropical forests of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Like Turkey, we also have a highly educated work force -- North Texas’s more than 30 higher education institutions are home to almost 350,000 students, and over 1.3 million of our 6.5 million residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
With so many similarities, it is a surprise that there are not more ties between our two economies. North Texas is home to 20 Fortune 500 companies eager to find new business opportunities in emerging markets like Turkey. Companies such as Lockheed Martin, Transatlantic and Texas Pacific Group are leading the way by establishing high-tech production facilities in Turkey; and we hope to see more Turkish companies with their US facilities based in North Texas.
So, why should North Texas businesses and Turkish executives partner together? Our similarities unite us and give both areas an opportunity to work together to mutually support each region’s rise towards its global potential. Both regions have proven economic stability and staying power, even while neighboring states and countries face challenges. And, Turkey and North Texas have taken on prominent roles in leading our respective regions out of recession by fostering vibrant markets and setting good examples of policies to encourage growth.
We boast the third-lowest distribution costs of any region, and are home to numerous intermodal transport options, allowing for the efficient transport of goods from all over the world. And, DFW International Airport -- our region’s most important asset -- connects us to 48 international destinations, including the Middle East through its addition of direct service to Dubai on Emirates.
An immediate opportunity for cooperation is in the energy field. Faced with your incredible growth opportunity, there will be a need to ensure that energy supply stays in lockstep with demand. Our state has a long and deep history in energy with expertise in fossil fuels, natural gas and alternative sources such as wind and solar. North Texas businesses should also take advantage of Turkey’s position as a “Gateway to the Middle East” and utilize your country as a major logistics hub.
North Texas is open for business, and we are eager to build a stronger relationship with Turkey. On our visit, we saw that Turkey and North Texas are not so different. We both hold in common the most important traits necessary to stand on the global stage: dynamic economies, central locations, highly educated workforces and, perhaps most importantly, the desire to cooperate for each other’s mutual benefit. Our customs and culture may be different, but when it comes to doing business, we both speak the same language.
We believe in Turkey. And, we hope Turkey believes in North Texas.
*Mabrie Jackson is the president and CEO of the North Texas Commission, an organization that markets, advocates and fosters collaboration for the North Texas region.