Fort Worth officials touted Tuesday a corporate relocation from Silicon Valley that they say will bolster the city’s goal of becoming a tech hub.
SmartAction, an artificial intelligence company based in El Segundo, Calif., is moving its headquarters to Fort Worth, the company and Fort Worth Economic Development Department said.
SmartAction will create at least 66 full-time, high-paying jobs by 2022 and lease a 7,400-square-foot office in Fort Worth by the end of this year, according to development commitments the company made to the city.
“We can start to blaze the trail from a tech perspective,” Gary Davis, CEO and president of SmartAction, said in an interview. “We’re the first. Three, four or five might follow and then those – all of us – can create momentum, create a wave of change and bring this industry to the city. This can be a huge success.”
The Economic Development Department labels SmartAction as a “high-value technology company.” The technology sector is a target industry and a major focus for Fort Worth, as expended in the department’s strategic plan.
At the City Council work session on Tuesday, economic development director Robert Sturns introduced the company to council members and announced the plans.
“After we refocus (from) this past year during COVID, it’s a golden opportunity,” Mayor Betsy Price said. “To track some of these California companies who want to come to Texas, we like that.”
The incoming tech boom
SmartAction, founded in 2002, provides AI-based service solutions to companies in various industries, like travel, hospitality and retail. The company provides virtual agent support as a service to leading brands like AAA, Penske, DSW, Fidelity Communications, Royal Caribbean and large hotel and casino operators in Las Vegas.
SmartAction has a proprietary speech recognition technology and more than 150 AI-powered applications that provide voice call center and text message automation. Hollywood screenwriters formulate their customer service scripts, while the AI software automates and personalize each conversation.
According to the company, it offers the only omnichannel conversational AI platform on the market.
CEO Davis said his company sees the potential for Fort Worth to be a major tech hub in the country. SmartAction wanted to benefit from the growth early on before other major tech companies saturated the market, he said.
“We didn’t want to go to a place that was already impacted or resources were already at a premium,” Davis said. “In Silicon Valley, I’m already competing for high-dollar resources that I know I’m not necessarily getting the best bang for my buck in most of those opportunities. I’m competing against Google and Yahoo and Twitter and all those folks.”
The lower cost of living and cheaper housing options have recently persuaded tech giants like Oracle and Hewlett Packard Enterprise to relocate from California to Austin and Houston, respectively. Uber is currently working to hire 3,000 positions at its new Dallas headquarters
“One of the things that make Silicon Valley, Austin or other startup tech hubs so transformative is their ability to bring the best and brightest minds together around a specific industry, technology or trend,” said Cameron Cushman, assistant VP of Innovation Ecosystems at UNT Health Science Center.
However, Fort Worth hasn’t been able to score as big as the other Texas city has in terms of high-value tech corporate relocations.
That could soon change with the entry of SmartAction. The addition of the new tech company has excited the local entrepreneurial community.
“SmartAction’s move to Fort Worth will bring like-minded experts together that will generate relationships, knowledge and expertise that will have long last effects on our innovation economy,” Cushman said.
SmartAction is rapidly expanding its presence and market share. The company currently works with more than 80 companies across the U.S.
The company was originally founded by Peter Voss, serial entrepreneur and pioneer in modern artificial intelligence. Voss currently serves as the CEO and chief scientist at Aigo.ai, which engages in creating hyper-personalized AI assistants with an understanding of natural language and have short and long-term memory.
The tech nucleus
Sturns brought forward a 380 economic development agreement with SmartAction at Tuesday’s meeting. The economic incentives aim to offset the company’s costs of relocating employees to Fort Worth.
As part of the agreement, the city will provide a grant of $10,000 per employee for up to 66 employees SmartAction will employ in Fort Worth. The employee’s wages must total or exceed $65,800.
Last year, electric motor company Linear Labs received a similar economic incentive package to establish a new headquarters in the AllianceTexas area. Linear Labs plans to build a 500,000-square-foot manufacturing facility.
“SmartAction is another company that allows us to really build that nucleus of technology companies in Fort Worth. It gives us the ability to attract more and larger innovative tech companies,” Sturns said. “In addition, because of the jobs that are being produced, we’ll have professionals that are experienced in coding software engineering, R&D, data mining. All these things are high-value, high-paying jobs that we want to have in Fort Worth.”
SmartAction expects to grow to have more than 100 employees in the next few years.
The company has leased a temporary site in the AllianceTexas development. Permanent office space will be leased on or before Jan. 1, 2022. Davis said the company is looking for a permanent office space in the downtown area.
“It’s not just, you know, ‘they’ve got Fort Worth somewhere in their address’ or whatever. We’re investing in Fort Worth. We’re invested in the people of Fort Worth,” Davis said. “And, we’re going to be engaged in the community. It’s part of who we are and what we want to do.”
The City Council will consider the economic incentive proposal at its meeting June 8.