Friday, March 22, 2013

Downtown Dallas’ business roster changes from a century ago — and 20 years ago

This week I was doing some research with antique maps of downtown Dallas that showed the businesses on each block.
About the only familiar name that jumped out at me from those 1885 maps was Sanger Brothers, the legendary local retailer.
Back then, no one had heard of a “department store.” The map says that the Sanger Brothers sold “clothing, hats, gents’ furnishings and retail dry goods.”
Neighboring businesses were identified as farm machinery companies, a wholesale grocer and a livery stable.
More than a century later, downtown Dallas’ biggest businesses are in telecommunication, law, banking and utilities.
And even that’s a big switch from the 1990s, when oil and gas firms and insurance companies were among downtown Dallas’ top employers.
“The complexion has changed enormously over the years, like many other things that have changed downtown,” said John Crawford, CEO of the economic development group Downtown Dallas Inc. “AT&T is now by far the biggest.”
AT&T dominates
And the Dallas-based telecom firm is still growing downtown.
AT&T has about 5,000 workers in its Akard Street headquarters towers.
The company only had about 40 percent of that job total when it relocated the head office from San Antonio to Dallas in 2008, AT&T senior vice president Ronald Spears said this week at a downtown luncheon.
Spears said an additional 400 to 600 AT&T workers will soon be “moving from various parts of the country to the headquarters.”
The increase will make AT&T the largest private sector employer in the central business district and one of the biggest in the whole region.
Downtown Dallas Inc. says other major downtown employers include Bank of America, electric utility Energy Future Holdings, Neiman Marcus Group, Hunt Consolidated, 7-Eleven Inc., Belo Corp. and A.H. Belo Corporation.
Crawford doesn’t have a tally of exactly how many workers each firm employs.
“The numbers are constantly changing, and people hedge on them,” he said.
Law firms and major accounting firms KPMG and Deloitte are also substantial corporate employers downtown, Crawford said.
Oil and insurers
If you had counted heads a few decades ago, the makeup of downtown’s office tenants would be much different.
The huge oil companies Mobil and Atlantic Richfield had thousands of workers here.
And insurers including Southland Life and Union Fidelity were right behind them in central city workers.
Some of those companies bolted to the ’burbs in the 1990s. Others have left town altogether or are no longer in business.
The local bank holding companies that once dominated Dallas’ financial sector and had thousands of employees are long gone.
“We’ve had a lot of cutbacks by major companies,” Crawford said. “People like Blockbuster used to have a lot of people downtown.”