DRC State of the City: Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings Reflects on Returning ‘Swagger’ to ‘Big D’

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings posed a key question to city and business leaders at his last State of the City Address, Tuesday, Dec. 4 at the Hyatt Regency in Downtown Dallas: “The question is whether you want this curve (of growth) to continue over the next 20 years, or do you want it to flatten?”

It was one of many thoughts and questions Rawlings expressed in his question-and-answer discussion with Rudy Bush, Deputy Editor of Editorials for The Dallas Morning News.

“That’s a big question this city’s going to have to wrestle with in the coming years,” Rawlings said. “I believe that, as (author and Gallup CEO) James Clifton calls it, there’s a jobs war out there. Where a city’s… got to keep moving forward, or it’s going to die.”

The discussion between Bush and Rawlings spanned the highlights and most-challenging moments of Rawlings’ tenure – from fatal police shootings that shocked the city to the 50-percent growth in Dallas’ property tax base. More than 800 business leaders attended the event, which was was organized by the Dallas Regional Chamber.

Rawlings, former Pizza Hut CEO and the 61st mayor of Dallas, will end his tenure as mayor on June 17, 2019; the city’s charter limits city council and mayoral officeholders to two, four-year terms.

At the Dec. 4 event, Rawlings recalled that when he took office in 2011, Dallas was still emerging from a recession that was still ravaging the nation. He said that when he took the helm as mayor, he didn’t know exactly what to expect, but that his practice as an executive is to examine an organization’s DNA, and to establish a narrative and a vision that compliments that organization’s strengths.

To Rawlings, Dallas was “Big D.”

“We were the home of Jean and (Texas Instruments founder) Norm McDermott,” Rawlings said. “And the great Erik Jonsson, who said, ‘Dream no small dreams.’ We had Ross Perot, who created EDS. We had Herb Kelleher who was, with a glass of whiskey, drawing lines on napkins to develop Southwest Airlines. Stanley Marcus took on Paris. We have Jerry Jones and Mark Cuban. And this swagger that was out there.”

At the same time, Rawlings said, it appeared that Dallas had lost some of its swagger.

“I said… people come from all over the country to be a part of this. And we’ve got to make sure that we continue to spread that belief.”

Rawlings said he set his second primary objective as boosting development in Southern Dallas.

“Nobody had really dealt with Southern Dallas — (it’s the) largest part of our landmass. And a great opportunity. And so I said, ‘Aha. If we leverage Southern Dallas, and bring back that swagger, maybe that’s the formula for success.’”

He added that boosting Southern Dallas would help end the wealth disparity between the northern Dallas and southern Dallas.

“The Southern Dallas thing was not just a geographic issue, it’s a bit of a metaphor for including everybody in this growth,” Rawlings said. “Because Dallas had been historically a tale of two cities. We’ve got to make sure that the growth that we want to have includes everybody.”

The Dallas Regional Chamber has been working with Rawlings as part of its mission to create better career options for students and to establish a highly trained workforce for the Dallas Region’s growing economy. The DRC has also assisted Rawlings in promoting his GrowSouthinitiative, which aims to improve the quality of life and to deliver jobs to Southern Dallas.

Those who would like to watch video of the conversation may click here; for the Powerpoint presentations, click here.

The DRC State of the City event was presented by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas; gold sponsors were American Airlines; Littler Mendelson, P.C.; and Oncor; silver sponsors included Austin College; Axxess; DFW International Airpor; Imaginuity Interactive; The Men and Women of Hunt Consolidated, Inc.; and West Monroe Partners LLC.