INDIANAPOLIS — The Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE) has named Tina DeRobertis of the Dallas Regional Chamber (DRC) its 2021-22 sales contest award winner for new sales in the largest revenue category.

Tina DeRobertis (center)

DeRobertis accepted the award at ACCE’s annual convention in Indianapolis on Wednesday, July 27. The ACCE represents over 9,000 professionals who work for and with more than 1,600 chambers of commerce around the world.

“Membership sales professionals are community champions, showcasing the impact their organizations have on the communities they serve,” said ACCE President & CEO Sheree Anne Kelly.

DeRobertis’ recognition is particularly impressive because she placed first in the $500,000-$2 million dues income category. Eligible sales were made from June 1, 2021-May 31, 2022.

“The DRC is nothing without our 700-plus member companies whose financial support allow us to do our important work,” said Meghan Kelley Wehner, Senior Vice President for the DRC’s Membership & Revenue Growth. “Tina cultivates new relationships, engages senior level executives, and creates customized engagement plans based on the individual company’s goals of the partnership. She’s such an asset to our organization and our members.”

About the Dallas Regional Chamber
The Dallas Regional Chamber is one of the most established business organizations in the nation and serves as the voice of business and the champion of economic development and growth in the Dallas Region. We work with our member companies and regional partners to strengthen our business community by advocating for pro-growth public policies, improving our educational system, attracting talented workers from around the world, promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion, and enhancing the quality of life for all. Our goal is to make the Dallas Region the best place in the United States for all people to live, work, and do business. For more information, please contact the DRC at 214.746.6600 or visit www.dallaschamber.org.

About the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives
Established in 1914, ACCE is an association based in Alexandria, Va., with more than 1,600 chambers of commerce and related business and economic development organizations as members, representing more than 9,000 professionals in the industry. The combined membership of ACCE chambers in the U.S. exceeds 1.2 million businesses.

Principal of Client Engagement Wendy Siegel shares how Unispace, a global strategy, design, and construction leader, helps global brands evolve their real estate in this rapidly changing world. Unispace has more than 700 employees across 26 countries worldwide, and in cities across the U.S., including Dallas.

Wendy Siegel, Principal of Client Engagement

How does your company help other businesses become more effective?

Unispace is a client-centric organization focused on true partnership. We create experiential workplaces for the next generation of work, and our expertise helps companies make challenging real estate decisions confidently. Our tools allow organizations to see what their peers are doing, scenario plan to see different workplace alternatives for hybrid working, and provide design platforms that rapidly iterate test fits for different cost considerations.

What differentiates your company from others in your industry?

Unispace is unlike almost any other company in our industry because we have a full-service approach integrating strategy, design, preconstruction, and construction. Every service is in-house. Our model goes beyond traditional design/build to bring a level of connection to clients and projects. We can design and build workplaces up to 25% faster with less risk and higher value than the typical marketplace offerings — a real benefit in today’s economy where companies need more value for their money.

What do you enjoy most about doing business in the Dallas Region?

I moved to the DFW area from the Bay Area about 10 years ago. I have first-hand knowledge of why Texas is a top destination for Fortune 500 companies looking for a friendly business climate, recruitment of top talent, and cultural diversity. One of our clients, Galderma, recognized this and chose Dallas for its new headquarters. It has been such a great experience to work with them to create a space that brings their vision and values to life. We’ve included several local nuances throughout the space to create that connection to the community and culture. It not only makes folks proud to work in this area but creates a sense of belonging and camaraderie.

Why did you decide to become a DRC member?

That was a no-brainer! The DRC is an incredible organization with a great network of peers and like-minded companies at the forefront of innovation and creativity. The DRC supports important initiatives like diversity, equity and inclusion, and community engagement. These are also key priorities for Unispace. Even though we’re a global company, supporting our communities and our people is so important to us.

How has your business changed in the past five years?

Unispace has been evolving over the past few years, powered by changes in the real estate landscape and our unique way to deliver world-class workplaces. We’ve helped guide clients through these challenging times by developing long-standing partnerships across the globe, always delivering high-quality experiences. We’re also deepening our industry expertise to better serve our clients. As a private equity backed company, we’ve made strategic acquisitions to grow our service offerings and continue to do what we do best — spark brilliance in people.

by Dave Moore, Staff Writer 

Less than a year after connecting hundreds of aspiring technologists to several Fortune 100 companies, HackDFW is returning to the Dallas Region.  

Last October, the HackDFW hackathon — which attracted more than 600 participants — generated a flood of resumes for event sponsors and awarded $20,000 in prizes, including a grand prize to a team from the University of Texas at Dallas.    

In a 48-hour period, the winning team of Megan Tran, Reshmi Ranjith, Saloni Shivdasani, Medha Jonnada, Medha Jonnada and Bryant Hou built a digital platform called “Health Quest,” which allows children and adults to track their health progress through fun virtual quests.  

Last year, team members showed up with sleeping bags and laptops, staying up all night to complete their projects on the floor of the Comerica Center in Frisco. This year, the competition is Sept. 23-25 on the top floors of Cityplace Tower, just north of downtown Dallas.  

The 2022 HackDFW sponsor list keeps growing. Google is the presenting sponsor, and Workforce Solutions Greater Dallas is the platinum sponsor. Gold sponsors include McKesson, CarMax, PepsiCo, State Farm, and Tyler Technologies. PepsiCo, Tyler Technologies, and CarMax are new sponsors. Silver sponsors include Digit7, Lockheed Martin, and Children’s Health. Exhibitor sponsors include USAA, Slalom, Dallas Mavericks, and Goldman Sachs. 

“The returning sponsors — and this year’s new sponsors — mean expanding career opportunities for HackDFW participants,” said event organizer Duane Dankesreiter, who is the DRC’s Senior Vice President of Research and Innovation.  

The chamber’s talent-attraction arm — Say Yes to Dallas — is powering the event. HackDFW attracted participants from across the country, including Washington, D.C.-based Howard University.   

“Last year we gave over 600 resumes to participating companies,” Dankesreiter said. “I can’t think of a better way for an employer to find tech talent than spending 48 hours at HackDFW, watching and working with these aspiring technologists. We’re excited to see what great solutions are created in such a short time. The energy the attendees bring when solving each challenge is contagious.”  

 Companies and individuals interested in participating in HackDFW can learn more here.

By Matthew Berger, Director of Communications

Kroger opened its new 350,000-square-foot, e-commerce fulfillment center, bringing up to 1,200 jobs to Southern Dallas County.

The $55 million facility at 4221 Telephone Rd. is the fifth of its kind in the United States. Kroger partnered with Ocado, a U.K. based technology group, to create robots that fetch food from bins throughout the facility. A robot and a warehouse worker can fulfill a grocery order in as little as six minutes.

“We are talking about a multi-million-dollar investment in the southern part of Dallas,” said Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, who attended the event with select council members. “This is the type of development that is going to help our residents, create a bunch of jobs, and help our community become more vibrant and resilient. We’re thrilled about this.”

Kroger plans to expand to 22 fulfillment centers by the end of 2023.

Kroger will deliver groceries in a 90-mile radius of the facility, offering same-day delivery, which is crucial for residents living in food deserts. Once an order is fulfilled, a Kroger delivery person drops off the order in a refrigerated truck. The delivery person also takes recyclable bags back to the fulfillment center for reuse.

Currently, the facility has 400 robots and can operate with as many as 1,000 robots.

“We were so proud to open our Kroger delivery facility in Dallas,” said Erin Rolfes, Kroger’s Director of Corporate Communications and Media. “The amazing support from our regional partners was invaluable in bringing this project to life. We can’t wait to continue to bring our ‘Fresh for Everyone’ commitment to more families here, as well as in San Antonio, Austin, and Oklahoma City.”

Developments like Kroger’s e-commerce fulfillment center are further proof of Southern Dallas County’s versality.

“It’s exciting to see the opening of such an innovative facility in Southern Dallas,” said Duane Dankesreiter, the DRC’s Senior Vice President of Research and Innovation. “It proves once again what a great place Southern Dallas County is for companies to setup operations.”

Group Seeks Members to Continue Pipeline

by Dave Moore, Staff Writer

This is the story of how a wellspring of jobs in Southern Dallas County connected with a workforce in search of good-paying jobs.

More specifically, it’s about how the Dallas County Inland Port, which encompasses 75,000 acres and is a base to more than 100 employers, connected with the local transit agency and Uber to transport workers to jobs they might not be able to reach on their own.

“If you think about it, there’s all this investment that’s here at the inland port, and all of these jobs,” said Laura Freeland, executive director of the Southern Dallas Inland Port Transportation Management Association. “But how do you get people… to these jobs?”

Freeland recently spoke to the Dallas Regional Chamber’s Southern Dallas County Task Force, which convened at the Commemorative Air Force at Dallas Executive Airport.

Most of Freeland’s discussion centered on the growth of the inland port, and how it has worked with the Dallas Regional Chamber (DRC), employers in the port, and others to reach a last-mile transportation solution for workers and employers. Freeland said there’s a growing number of well-paying jobs in the port, with another 6,000 positions expected within the next three years.

Some of the many Inland Port employers include FedEx, Amazon, and Whirlpool.

Employer User Group Survey 

To define the scope of the problem, the inland port worked with the DRC’s Research and Innovation Department, which surveyed employers on their workforce logistics issues. The survey found that about 90% of all inland port employees live outside of the port area.

To answer the challenge of connecting people to jobs, Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price and Dallas City Councilmember Tennell Atkins brought together the many organizations that operate within the inland port. As a result, Dallas County government, the City of Dallas, the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG), Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) agency, Star Transit, and area employers formed the Southern Dallas County Inland Port Transportation Management Association (IPTMA) to extend transit routes and ride-sharing services.
 
DART, Uber Fill the Gap 

The solution is termed “microtransit”: on-demand rides (through DART shuttles, Star Transit, or Uber vehicles) that take riders where they want to go, when they want to go, without the need for conventional fixed-route transit services.

GoLink works like Uber, except riders can schedule rides using the GoPass app or by calling 214-515-7272, DART vans — rather than privately owned cars — provide the rides.

A $1 million federal grant from NCTCOG enabled the start of the microtransit service, she said. That’s enough funding for about three years of operation, to allow the IPTMA to generate enough membership to sustain it.

The results are promising, so far. Ridership in the inland port tripled between January 2021 and April 2022. Meanwhile, average wait times have held steady at about 12 minutes.

Transit Option Seals the Deal 

The Southern Dallas Inland Port is encouraging employers to join the association, so the enterprise can be self-funded. Those that do will receive transit pass subsidies or vouchers for employees, among other benefits.

DRC Senior Vice President of Research and Innovation Duane Dankesreiter said the association will play a key role in further developing the inland port’s economy.

“That day when we land a 5,000-person manufacturer at the inland port, having transportation options within that pitch is super important,” he said.

Southern Dallas County Inland Port employers, learn more information about joining.

By Matthew Berger, Director of Communications

Since 1984, Monte Anderson has been improving Southern Dallas through countless real estate projects. The Dallas Regional Chamber spoke to the Options Real Estate president as part of its new Community Conversations series, which features gamechangers rewriting the narrative in Southern Dallas County.

Monte Anderson, President

“I grew up in South Oak Cliff, and many years ago, I dedicated my life to making Southern Dallas County a better place for my kids and grandkids,” Anderson said. “I wanted my friends and neighbors to own businesses and real estate and get the wealth instead of someone from out of town. I made a conscious effort for this as my purpose.”

Here is the full conversation:

What projects are you currently working on in Southern Dallas County?

“We’re currently working on Wheatland Plaza in Duncanville, and we’re converting it into a mixed-use village with lofts, condos, a food hall, and 11 boutique hotel rooms. Over time, this property will convert from dollar-type stores to affordable creative studios and other retail that will allow local people of the Duncanville area to express their culture and build wealth. On Polk and Highway 67, we are working on the Triangle Village, which will have micro apartments on the parking lot creating an urban mixed-use development from a 1960s suburban shopping center.”

Specifically, how will your mixed-use development on Beckley Avenue help small businesses?

“We just finished 2910 Beckley Ave. We turned a DISD alternative school into 32 micro retail spaces and one restaurant. It’s 100% leased, and locals can start their business at a very low entry level, as low as $500-600 a month. A business owner doesn’t need a small business loan to see if they’re an entrepreneur or not. They can test their business out at an affordable rate.”

How important is collaboration with organizations like the Dallas Regional Chamber (DRC) in moving the economic development needle in Southern Dallas County?

“It makes me have hope when I see top executives on the ground in these communities. It meant a lot when DRC President Dale Petroskey visited with me at Beckley Avenue. We need the top people with the best talent in Dallas working on the weakest links. In other words, corporate America, please do not send us your worst. Send us your best.”

You’ve said previously underserved communities need more local stakeholders, not more handouts. Expand on this idea, and how can businesses in the Dallas Region make a difference? 

“It’s the old saying ‘feed a person a fish, they eat for one day. Teach a person to fish, they eat for a lifetime.’ We haven’t taught enough people how to fish in Southern Dallas County. We haven’t spent the time to help people who have questions about banking and finance grow their businesses properly. Spending time with the locals who understand their community is more beneficial than asking for the help of out-of-towners. The locals know what is missing.”

What goals do you have for Southern Dallas County over the next 5-10 years?

“I would like all the people I have worked with or done business with to own their own property or run their own profitable business. All people in Southern Dallas County deserve a great quality of life, good food, access to healthcare, and to send their kids off to college, if they want. My biggest goal for the future in Southern Dallas County is that we learn how to build wealth and that no one is unhoused.”

By Matthew Berger, Director of Communications

Terrence Maiden is already living out his life’s mission. He’s using his love of real estate to transform the Oak Cliff neighborhood he said molded him into the man he is today.

Maiden, who founded and now serves as CEO of Dallas-based Russell Glen Real Estate, spoke to the Dallas Regional Chamber for its new Community Conversations series, which features gamechangers rewriting the narrative in Southern Dallas County.

Terrence Maiden, Founder & CEO

“I always felt the need and the importance to give back to the Oak Cliff community because it was such an important fabric in my life growing up,” said Maiden, who had successful football careers at Dallas Carter High School and Texas Christian University before finding his way into real estate. “It has been both fulfilling and challenging, but I wouldn’t change anything about the journey to get here.”

Here is the full conversation:

Give us an update on the RedBird project.

“We’re really excited about the progress so far. We are working to complete all the initial infrastructure for development which includes new streets, parking lots, landscaping, and making the project more walkable. UT Southwestern will open a new regional medical center this summer. We recently executed a lease with Dallas College for a satellite campus, and The Lawn at RedBird will open soon. We hope to announce many tenants that are coming in like Chick-Fil-A. I am most excited about the Shops at RedBird becoming an epicenter for employment for the community. We will create over 3,000 jobs on the campus, which improves the quality of life for people in the area.”

What other projects are you working on in Southern Dallas County, and how will they make an impact?

“Russell Glen Company will be developing a project across from UNT Dallas, a 90-acre master plan community in the ‘education corridor’ of Southern Dallas County. We anticipate starting construction in 2023. Our focus will be centered on providing quality residential for the community, office, retail, grocery, and restaurants. We will incorporate a design that complements the vision for UNT Dallas’ master plan campus, that will signify how it’s a central hub for education for every student attending college in the area.”

What are ways businesses can change the narrative in Southern Dallas County?

“To invest. There is a narrative about Southern Dallas County that is often painted with a broad but negative brush. There are very educated, talented people in the area who just need access to quality jobs. The business community needs to step up and be a catalyst for change by creating bigger spaces for employment. It will only attract more people to Southern Dallas County and uplift the entire community.”

How important is a collaboration with organizations like the Dallas Regional Chamber (DRC) in helping the underserved in Southern Dallas County?

“The leadership team at the DRC, particularly Duane Dankesreiter and Latosha Herron Bruff, have been very vocal and intentional with their Southern Dallas County outreach. They have been great partners, especially with the Shops at Redbird. That sort of collaboration goes a long way. If you have an organization like the DRC pushing for change in Southern Dallas County, it provides more substance and weight for what we are trying to accomplish.”

What goals do you have for Southern Dallas County over the next 5-10 years?

“As a company, the Russell Glen strategy will include investing a billion dollars into underserved areas in communities across the country. Our hope is to continue to identify opportunities to create meaningful change from the economic development and real estate development standpoint.”

Concerts are back, and music lovers couldn’t be more excited. Dallas Regional Chamber member Live Nation, the world’s leading live entertainment company, discusses the new perks for its premium concert experience.

What new initiatives are you using to entice music fans this summer and beyond? 

Live music is back, and we couldn’t be more excited to say so. After the last few years, music fans have earned a place to congregate and enjoy the magic that live events provide. We’ve initiated an enhanced focus on our premium and season seating programs at our Dallas venues. Whether our guests are entertaining for business purposes or enjoying the music themselves, we provide a seamless concert experience for them from start to finish.

How has the premium concert experience changed post-pandemic?

After not having live music for such a long time, it’s up to us to make sure our guests have the best experience possible. While we continue to provide VIP parking, private venue entrances, VIP club access, in-seat food and beverage service, and other benefits, we’ve also enhanced seating. We have hosted several groups in our new Rock Box at Dos Equis Pavilion, which features couches, western décor, a refrigerator stocked with drinks, tables, an exclusive catering menu, and the best views in the house. The Pavilion at the Toyota Music Factory will also soon be undergoing renovations to provide additional style and comfort, and the Echo Lounge and Music Hall features balcony seating with amazing sightlines and a luxurious private table section. We’ve made these additions to ensure the post-pandemic premium experience is even better than pre-pandemic.

How important is music in getting us back to normal?

Incredibly important. There is a type of music out there for everyone, and it’s wonderful to see the Dallas Region and its multiple venues bring so many people together through music. The last few years have been rough on all of us, but what’s the best way to celebrate? An amazing VIP experience at your favorite artist’s concert.

What upcoming tours can the Dallas Region look forward to? Any surprise performances?

While I can’t speak about any unannounced shows in the pipeline, I can say that as much as fans missed seeing the artists, the artists missed seeing the fans. They are very eager to get back on the road.

Anthony Bolton is an expert in industrial hygiene, serving as Regional Operations Manager for SRP Environmental’s North Texas office. Engineers, toxicologists, certified industrial hygienists, and certified safety professionals help clients improve their work practices in human health and environmental sustainability. SRP Environmental, first founded in Shreveport, has 22 locations in Alabama, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas.

Anthony Bolton, Regional Operations Manager, North Texas Office

For more than 15 years, Anthony Bolton has provided businesses with data-driven solutions to ensure environmental sustainability and worker health and safety across various industries.

It’s common for clients to have complex questions while navigating state and federal regulations regarding environmental compliance, exposure to harmful contaminants, and overall workplace safety.  That is where Bolton bridges his experience with his passion for helping people to provide one-of-a-kind industry knowledge.

For example, there has been an increase in industrial hygiene inquiries for companies with chemical plants, manufacturing plants, and construction sites across the Dallas Region. One company found air quality testing specific to its raw material hazards at a manufacturing facility. Following unique approaches to sampling methodologies, Bolton devised a sampling protocol allowing for negligible operational disruption while establishing a baseline for potential workplace hazards and continued peace of mind.

Bolton’s passion for helping others is also evidenced in his personal life. In 2021, Bolton published his first book titled “Oilfield Heart: One Man’s Life Saved by Education,” a fictional story inspired by true events that depict how one young man defies all odds and fights for a bright future. He is also a Board of Advisor for the Dallas Regional Chamber’s Public Policy and Advocacy Council and Economic Development Council Task Force.

Bolton’s educational background includes Occupational Safety and Health, Emergency Management, and a master’s degree in Communications. He is currently pursuing his doctorate degree in Public Policy from Liberty University.

If you’d like to connect with Anthony, please contact him at abolton@srpenvironmental.net or 972.388.3454.

By Matthew Berger, Director of Communications

The DRC hosted its first Legal Supplier Forum at the UNT Dallas College of Law on Tuesday, July 12.

More than 70 lawyers and law school students gathered as moderators Hilda Galvan of Jones Day and William Toles of Munsch Hardt asked Mike Shaw, Chief Legal and Regulatory Officer for Southwest Airlines Co., Joanne Caruso, Chief Legal and Administrative Officer at Jacobs, and Youssef Said, General Counsel for El Rancho Supermercado, how to create a more diverse in-house and outside counsel.

Photo credit: Shania Anderson, UNT Dallas

“Events like today are vital for establishing the much-valued diversity we need in the legal industry,” said Galvan, who serves on the DRC Board of Directors and was the DRC Board Chair in 2017. “I am here because of the people who gave me opportunities, and it’s important for me to do that for the next generation.”

The panelists discussed what diversity means to them and their respected companies and how hiring diverse law firms to oversee an organization’s legal matters is good business. The event was sponsored by Munsch Hardt and Carrington Coleman.

“Southwest Airlines is committed to doubling gender and racial diversity by 2025,” Shaw said. “It’s an interesting process because historically we have been hiring from within, but now we are offering training to all hiring managers and using diverse hiring panels to help us reach our goal.”

Hiring diverse attorneys is just the beginning when building a stronger in-house counsel.

“You must provide your new employees with opportunities once they’re hired,” Caruso said. “Give them worthwhile experiences to work with CEOs and your board, so they can advance their careers.”

Lawyers, like any other leader in an industry, must also stay intellectually curious, so they’re prepared for any scenario at any time.

“Whatever you do, learn it to the best of your ability, and be excellent at it,” Said said. “Learn different types of law, learn nuanced law, and read as much as possible. Whatever you are doing, do it well, and then put a little more on your plate.”

The Dallas Region remains the best place for workers all over the world to live, work, and do business.

“The best asset we have in our region is our people,” said Angela Farley, the DRC’s COO and CFO. “The DRC along with the companies represented on our panel today are committed to creating more opportunities for underrepresented talent in the legal profession. Inclusive employers will continue to strengthen communities.”

Helping Hands for Single Moms assists a mother as she attains a college education, financial independence, and a positive family legacy. Development Director Chandra Matthews is proud and honored to be part of a nonprofit organization that serves single-mother families in the Dallas Region.

Chandra Matthews, Development Director

How does your company help other businesses become more effective?

Helping Hands for Single Moms partners with businesses that align with our vision to end generational poverty one single mom family at a time. Together we work to provide in-kind services to support our moms and families.

What differentiates your company from others in your industry?

Forty-five percent of single-mom families are living at or below federal poverty guidelines (Texas is at 42%) and a college education is the surest path to financial independence. We are unique because we are not addressing a need that is already being served by dozens of other nonprofits in the region. These women are already doing the hard work – we are a resource to help them accomplish their goals. Our hope is that the community will join us in assisting these very deserving women.

What do you enjoy most about doing business in the Dallas Region?

I grew up in Dallas and our city has a huge heart for community, positive and effective change, and is a resource to offer the best in all industries.

Why did you decide to become a DRC member?

The DRC is well connected to the community. I want to be part of the DRC to network and meet other businesses and organizations so we can support one another’s initiatives.

How has your business changed in the past five years?

We began in Phoenix and have a proven, award-winning program that has helped hundreds of single mom college students. Dallas is following this model and has a graduation rate of 80%, far exceeding the national average of only 8%.

By Sherry Travers, Collin Quigley, and Ross Reyes

Littler — and its more than 1,600 attorneys around the world — are committed to labor and employment law to help employers navigate a complex business world with nuanced legal issues. Here are seven legal trends businesses need to keep an eye on:

Sherry Travers, Shareholder

Collin Quigley, Associate

Ross Reyes, Associate

Liability protection for COVID-19 claims

In 2021, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed the Pandemic Liability Protection Act into law which provides retroactive liability protections to both small and large businesses for pandemic-related claims filed on or after March 13, 2020. The law creates exceptionally high thresholds for a plaintiff asserting claims for COVID-19 related injuries.

First, a plaintiff must be able to show that the defendant knew of and failed to warn the plaintiff about a condition that was “likely to result in the exposure” to COVID-19. Second, the plaintiff must show that the defendant knowingly failed to implement or comply with government-promulgated standards, guidance, or protocols in place at the time of their alleged exposure to COVID-19. These are high legal standards requiring a plaintiff to provide reliable scientific evidence from an expert witness that shows that the defendant’s failure to warn of the condition likely to result in the exposure to COVID-19 or failure to comply with government standards, guidance, or protocols regarding COVID-19 caused the individual to contract the disease. This defense has been successfully used by companies around the state to defeat COVID-related claims. Accordingly, Texas employers facing COVID-related litigation should consult with their employment law counsel to determine whether this liability shield law applies to their litigation, and, if so, the best timing and method for asserting this powerful defense.

Remote workers in other states

Due to increased flexibility to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, workers are on the move, taking advantage of the opportunity to “wander” and work temporarily from a variety of remote locations. This new normal of employees working from other locations triggers unexpected compliance issues that employers must anticipate and address. The first rule of thumb for wandering workers is “location, location, location.” The law that applies to an employee’s work will most likely be the law of the state where that individual is working — even if the employer is located elsewhere. With limited exceptions of states whose courts have upheld “extraterritorial application” of their laws in other states, most state legislatures and courts recognize that their power to regulate work and employees is limited by their state’s border. What does this mean for you? It means that, if your employees are working in a state other than Texas, you need to determine what compliance obligations you have in that state and not just focus on Texas law. For example, the following are just a few areas to review and consider when evaluating whether to permit employees to remotely work in a state other than Texas:

      • state and local taxation
      • registration to do business in new states
      • paid sick leave obligations
      • minimum wage or salary requirements
      • meal and rest break requirements
      • job posters, pay data reporting, and hiring notifications
      • wage-theft notice requirements
      • unemployment insurance payment obligations

Reasonable accommodations in the post-pandemic era

As the pandemic begins to subside and employers recall their workforces to the physical office setting, employers are seeing an increase in requests to continue working remotely as an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act or Chapter 21 of the Texas Labor Code. And, in a post-pandemic work environment, employers should anticipate such requests may be more difficult to deny than they were pre-pandemic. This is because employees have been working remotely for more than two years and are now better positioned to demonstrate they have been just as productive—if not more productive — in a remote work setting. In other words, employers were previously able to deny, successfully, remote work as an accommodation by asserting physical attendance in the workplace was an essential function of the employee’s job, but a basis for denial is less likely to carry the day. Employers should, therefore, be prepared to articulate a fact-specific basis as to why remote work is an unreasonable accommodation.

Expanded liability for sexual harassment claims

As of Sept. 1, 2021, employers face expanded liability for sexual harassment claims asserted under Texas law. This expanded liability comes in a surprising move from a historically employer-friendly state and includes a longer statute of limitations for filing sexual harassment claims with the Texas Workforce Commission, a broader definition of who qualifies as an “employer” for liability purposes, and a heightened standard for employers to respond to internal sexual harassment complaints. Employees now have 300 days, rather than 180 days, to file a complaint alleging sexual harassment with the Texas Workforce Commission.

Moreover, smaller employers employing less than 15 employees are no longer immune from liability for sexual harassment claims under Texas law. The new law now applies to any employer that employs at least one employee, i.e., virtually all employers. Even more, as the new law’s definition of “employer” includes any person who “acts directly in the interests of an employer in relation to an employee,” supervisors, managers, human resources professionals, and other employees may be held personally liable for sexual harassment claims. This is a substantial departure from Texas’ former law, which didn’t provide for individual liability. While this change impacts employer’s managerial employees, who may now be held personally liable for sexual harassment, it also impacts employers as well, as it potentially forecloses their ability to remove sexual harassment lawsuits to federal court. Finally, employers are now required to take “immediate and appropriate corrective action” —as opposed to previously being required to take “prompt remedial action” — in response to internal complaints of sexual harassment. Because it’s still unclear what constitutes “immediate and appropriate corrective action,” employers should be swift in their response to internal complaints of sexual harassment. Employers should also have experienced employment counsel review and revise their handbook policies addressing discrimination and harassment to ensure compliance with Texas law.

Abortion in the workplace

The U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overturning the landmark 1973 case Roe v. Wade, which held the U.S. Constitution protected the right of women to terminate a pregnancy prior to the date of viability. The Supreme Court’s decision on June 24 holds there is no such Constitutional right, and gives the power to regulate the legality of abortions back to the individual states 50 years after Roe. The regulation of abortion at the state level directly impacts the extent to which employers will be able to provide coverage under their health plans, not just for abortion, but for other reproductive health care services.  In addition to affecting employee benefits, this decision may also affect other aspects of the workplace, including whether and how employers will communicate with employees about the issue, as well as whether and how employers will implement policies to address abortion-related issues; including communications on internal company communication systems and social media platforms. Given these competing considerations, employers should consult with their employment counsel to navigate their federal and state compliance obligations, with the understanding clear guidance regarding the impact of these laws on employer health plans and employment practices may be years away.

Guns in the workplace

The Firearm Carry Act of 2021, which went into effect on Sept. 1, 2021, allows individuals who are 21 years old or older to carry handguns in public, either in a holster or concealed, without a government permit, provided they are not prohibited from owning a firearm under state or federal law. Most important for employers, the law still permits businesses to prevent members of the public (or employees) from bringing firearms into their businesses so long as the business provides notice (verbal or written) that firearms are not allowed on the premises. However, employers must still, under most circumstances, permit employees to keep firearms in their locked vehicles parked on company property.

Expanded protections for employees called to serve in military

Texas employees called to active duty or training with state military forces have long been protected from termination and possessed certain reinstatement rights after returning from said duty or training. Prior to Sept. 1, 2021, if an employer failed to comply with these requirements, an aggrieved employee could only file a complaint with the Texas Workforce Commission. However, as of Sept. 1, 2021, aggrieved employees now possess a private right of action, which allows them to file a civil lawsuit and recover declaratory or equitable relief, as well as monetary damages, costs, and attorneys’ fees against an employer who violates this law. Because of this new law, employers should exercise extra caution when addressing issues regarding employees called up for military service.

For more information regarding any of the above topics, please contact Sherry Travers,  Collin Quigley, or Ross Reyes in Littler’s Dallas office.

Growth at Pegasus Park, Incoming Life Sciences Startups Signal Biotech 'Convergence'

By Dave Moore, Staff Writer

A startup biotech company, formerly located in Boston, just announced its new headquarters in Frisco. The BioLabs facility at Dallas’ Pegasus Park is nearing capacity, and the construction of a manufacturing facility for Evolve Biologics, an advanced plasma-derived therapeutics company, continues in Sachse.

Those were a few of the highlights discussed at the Dallas Regional Chamber’s Q2 Tomorrow Fund Investor Breakfast, which was held in the Toyota Board Room on Thursday, June 23.

Keynoting the breakfast was a panel hosted by DRC Vice President of Innovation Jorge Varela. He discussed DFW biotech trends with Kathleen Gibson, President and CEO of the Southwestern Medical Foundation, and Matt Crommett, Director at Lyda Hill Philanthropies, which is a primary driving force behind Pegasus Park.

Their consensus: The convergence of scientists, investors, and those who work in intellectual property capitalization is working at Pegasus Park, and across the region.

“What’s interesting is about half the companies are coming from the coasts,” said Crommett, referring to companies occupying the BioLabs facility in Pegasus Park, the only non-coastal BioLabs location in the United States. “They’re coming from the coasts for all the same reasons that we’ve heard companies are relocating to North Texas.”

As proof, Crommett cited the announcement that Aakha Biologics was moving from BioLabs at Pegasus Park to 5680 Frisco Square in Frisco. Aahka started in Boston but moved to the BioLabs facility in Dallas.

In a statement to the media, Aakha Biologics founder and CEO Hemanta Baruah said: “Our time at BioLabs Pegasus Park proved to be an ideal situation for us. We had excellent opportunities to interact with colleagues and like-minded entrepreneurs.”

He added: “With the premier facility and synergies available within Pegasus Park, we moved from concept to a solid preclinical stage company in the course of one year.”

Crommett in May spoke on a panel with biotech innovator Hua Tu, who said he chose to relocate his companies to North Texas because of its central location, available and affordable real estate, proximity to a major airport, and access to talent from local universities.

Southwestern Medical Foundation’s Kathleen Gibson estimated there are thousands of individuals involved in health sciences and biotech in North Texas. When speaking about the emerging health care sectors, Gibson said cancer research and brain health research hold the most promise.

“The cancer research and prevention sector in Texas is significant, and so is the public health need for cancer care,” Gibson said. “It’s unleashing a tremendous talent attraction, especially given the amount of [state and federal funding] support.”

Gibson said now that science can study the brain at the cellular level, major breakthroughs in neuroscience are possible — from autism to Alzheimer’s disease.

She cited UT Southwestern — which is supported by the Southwestern Medical Foundation —swiftly established its Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute with $500 million in philanthropic investments and another $500 million in institutional investments.

Biotech Pioneer Evolve Biologics Nets Building Tomorrow Together Award

Both Evolve Biologics CEO Jim Caggiano and CCO David Holliday were given the DRC’s Q2 Building Tomorrow Together Award for their work in building their U.S. production facility in Sachse. The Evolve Biologics facility will use an advanced process for deriving protein from human blood plasma.

“I had never heard of Sachse,” Caggiano said. “But sure enough, Sachse came to the top of the list.”

He added the City of Sachse has been extremely easy to work when obtaining permits and answering questions.

Holmes Murphy is the presenting sponsor for the Investor Breakfast series. The breakfast sponsor is Independent Financial.

By Matthew Berger, Director of Communications 

The Dallas Regional Chamber (DRC) hosted its first Young Professionals (YP) Community Conversations: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at its downtown offices on June 23.  

“DEI is core to our mission,” said Daniela Ramirez, the DRC’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Manager. “We commit to work every day to build a more inclusive community, to advance equitable opportunities for all, and to address systemic racism and other forms of discrimination head-on.” 

YP members listened as Kendall Hill of This Is Project Texas, Prisma Garcia of MoneyGram International, Alejandra Saldaña of Jubilee Park and Community Center, and Mariano Pintor, an advertising executive raised in Oak Cliff, discussed their DEI work in the Dallas Region. Gene Mance of AT&T was the panel’s moderator.

The panelists discussed their focus areas in the community and how they’re trying to advance change. 

“I view Dallas as an epicenter for the state and the nation,” Hill said. “We need more communities that are engaged and have equity in their community.” 

Another topic of conversation was health care. 

“Not having access to a provider to catch issues early on is a huge issue,” Saldaña said. “In Southeast Dallas, there are 54 physicians for every 100,000 people. The national average is 225 physicians per 100,000 people.” 

Garcia and Saldaña, who were born in Dallas, were called to activism early in life.  

“I always wanted to come back and make a difference in my community,” Garcia said. “It might not have been the hip place to be, but I was called to make a difference. Don’t get out of the rough. Come back to the rough and fix it.” 

How can the business community and young professionals help the under-resourced? 

“Have deep conversations, be upfront and real, and acknowledge your privileges,” Garcia added. “It is not what we can give; it’s what we can give up. I think it’s also recognizing there are true assets in the community.” 

Pintor said: “I challenge you to think about someone completely opposite of you. Do some research on your own and think outside your comfort zone.” 

The next YP event will be YP Get on Board on Thursday, Aug. 18. The event will show how YPers can get on local nonprofit boards. For information and how to become a Young Professional, email mmiers@dallaschamber.org. 

The DRC’s Young Professionals is an emerging group of future leaders who are committed to leadership development, public policy, and community engagement.  

By Matthew Berger, Director of Communications  

Jorge Varela, Vice President of Research and Innovation, and Kevin Shatley, Vice President of Economic Development, represented the Dallas Regional Chamber (DRC) at this year’s BIO International Conference in San Diego. 

“The greatest minds in biotechnology were all in the room, and we connected with them to explore opportunities and increase investments in the Dallas Region,” Varela said.  

The annual conference is the industry’s largest conference in the world, attracting an average of 15,000-20,000 people per year. It also features more than 3,000 companies and 100-plus panel sessions over four days. Topics include therapy targets, business development, digital health, patient advocacy, public policy, and next-generation biotherapeutics. 

The DRC attended the conference with Texas Healthcare Biotech Institute (THBI), Bio North Texas, and the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT).  

“We received interest from a half dozen bio companies to relocate to the Dallas Region,” Shatley said. “They recognize the area’s emergence in life sciences, which is driven by our strengths in biosciences, data science, artificial intelligence, logistics, financial technology, blockchain, and sensors and microprocessors.” 

Varela said the Dallas Region is the perfect destination for biotech for three reasons:  

      • The area has available medical facilities and labs like Pegasus Park, UT Southwestern, and the University of Texas at Dallas. 
      • The Dallas Region’s growth in manufacturing. Varela said DRC member Deloitte projects Texas will lead the country in manufacturing jobs through 2029. Having the ability to manufacture drugs in nearby locations at a high pace — while also being able to safely transport the materials — is a huge advantage. 
      • Our airports. Varela said DFW International Airport is one of two airports in the country with Center of Excellence for Independent Validators (CEIV) certification, which means our facilities can safely transport materials like vaccines and drugs to countries across the world.