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Amazon's Impact on Northeast Texas Would be Huge

Photo by Scott Morgan, KETR News
Photo by Scott Morgan, KETR News
If Amazon puts HQ2 north of DFW, town squares like Leonard will get a lot more congested.

Dallas is still in the hunt to be the home of HQ2, Amazon’s nickname for its pending second headquarters. If it lands here, the effects could echo deep into the country in Northeast Texas.

That, of course, depends on where in DFW the online retailer sets up shop. Closer to Fort Worth, the impact of the move and the 50,000 new jobs Amazon is expected to bring to wherever it moves would be minimal in Northeast Texas counties like Collin, Grayson, and Fannin.

But if Amazon comes north — and most signs point to HQ2 landing in the Collin County city of Plano, where Liberty Mutual and Toyota have, combined, brought about 6,000 jobs over the past two years — then the retailer’s footprint will be more like a stomp, sending impact tremors across State Highway 75 and up the fast-developing State Highway 121 toward Fannin County.

Anna: Accelerating the Inevitable

Directly in the path of those potential tremors is Anna, the second-to-last city in Collin County before the Fannin County line on 121. Anna is smack in the middle of a major road-widening project meant to make room for already-brisk growth. Unofficially, the city’s population today is about 14,000, according to Jessica Perkins, chief administrative officer of Anna’s Economic Development Corporation.

That number above was 12,000 and change two years ago. Two years before that, it was 10,500, and it was less than 9,000 in 2010, according to U.S. Census figures.

Most of that growth is the inevitable result of the Metroplex’s continued reach north and east of Dallas, and Perkins says Anna is braced for one day being home to 250,000. Maybe even 300,000, and maybe within 20 years.

“Bracing” means infrastructure, schools, and, of course, road widening, which Perkins says Anna’s been doing and planning for years.

“For Anna, I think it’ll just accelerate the inevitable,” she says.

But bracing also means preparing for immigrants to the city because of the number of new jobs. Even in bad economic climes Collin County has maintained an unemployment rate far lower than the national averages. At the end of December, the Bureau of Labor Statistics put the county’s unemployment rate at 3.2 percent. The national rate is 4.1 percent.

What that means when it comes to 50,000 new jobs, Perkins says, is anyone’s guess. Those Amazon jobs will either be filled by new hires or existing residents —which begs the question of who’ll fill those jobs left by people who join Team Amazon.

“New people will need to replace those jobs somewhere,” she says.

All in all, she says, the scale of the Amazon operation and its potential effects on the region are enough to boggle her mind.

“It’s so hard to get your head around,” she says.

Fannin: A Bedroom Community (if anybody can build it, that is)

As Collin rolls into Fannin County, the scenery gets more bucolic. For now. The widening of 121 is supposed to ease the congestion between McKinney and Blue Ridge, but even in bad tie-ups, traffic for the most part keeps moving along this artery.

For transplants coming from Seattle (Amazon’s current home) or Southern California, where it has offices, the very fact that places like Trenton, Blue Ridge, or Leonard might be an hour to work is not likely to be a setback.

“If they’re used to a commute, which most of them typically are,” says Sean Pate, city manager in Bonham, “an hour is nothing to them. They’d love nothing more than taking a 45-minute or an hour commute driving through a pretty countryside.”

Bonham has been preparing as much as Anna. It’s just not yet had cause to put all that development in motion. But though the city is likely too far from DFW and its northern suburbs to really see major direct impact from Amazon, Pate says, development is on the way.

Last summer, Bonham released its “Vision Bonham” plan to look at what’s likely to come along for the city and the region in the next decade. It’s an ambitious vision by any measure. There’s just one catch: All those new people pushing outward from north of State Highway 380 will need places to live. And while Fannin County has plenty of room, it doesn’t have a lot of hands capable of building homes.

“The developers that are up here just don’t have enough of the people to go around for skilled trades to be able to build these houses fast enough,” Pate says. “That in itself is an extreme challenge.”

In a weird irony, given that we’re talking about job growth, skilled laborers aren’t in Fannin County because there are no jobs for them. Those who grew up in places like Leonard often leave the region to work for contractors in Dallas or Houston, where growth is constant. That could mean that when Fannin County needs those skilled hands in a few years, homegrown talent will not likely make up a big piece of contractors’ staffs.

Effects on the Housing Market

Steven Powell, a Realtor at JP and Associates, based in Frisco, has no doubt housing will boom in the triangle of Sherman, Melissa, and Trenton if Amazon choses northern DFW. He personally has watched the market around Plano change due to the arrivals of Liberty Mutual and Toyota.

“We saw an influx of people from California with Toyota,” he says.

A major appeal for Californians and Seattleites is the value of houses in Northeast Texas compared to those places. Median house prices in Seattle, Powell says, are around $700,000. Even in booming and (for Texas) pricy markets like Plano, median prices are half that.

The surrounding area, he says, saw demand for housing soar, along with prices. The same, he says, will likely happen near where 121 meets 75. Consider that housing price growth in a healthy market is usually 2 to 3 percent; in the areas most likely to be affected by Amazon, even long before the retailer announced it wanted a second home, growth these past few years has been 8 to 10 percent, Powell says.

That could be a sign of a bubble. Or it could be the lower end of the growth range if tens of thousands of people moving from far more expensive places think they’re getting a bargain.

Something to keep in mind, says Jessica Perkins, is that while Amazon would absolutely change the landscape and the economies of towns in the nascence of large-scale growth, Amazon coming to near Northeast Texas would mean lots of the one thing that balances out big expenses:

“Adding new people means adding new businesses … new property taxes,” Perkins says. “And people spend money [locally].”