• The Marriott in Westlake is getting a facelift. 
  • Denny’s seeks grand-slam idea.

Texas — and North Texas in particular — took a big step toward becoming a top-tier life sciences center on Sept. 26 when the area was awarded federal designation to be the Customer Experience Hub for the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health. The designation will bring federal funds, programs and attract talent to the area’s growing biotech and life sciences industries.

The two other hubs announced were the Investor Catalyst hub, to be based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Stakeholder and Operations hub, to be located in the Washington, D.C, region.

While Dallas’ Pegasus Park, a 26-acre life sciences and health care focused business park, will be the physical focus of the Customer Experience Hub, Fort Worth and other partner cities will be key to the effort, said Tom Luce, director of biotech initiatives at Lyda Hill Philanthropies, who led the effort. 

“This will involve all the partners. This is a win for all of the state,” he said. 

No funding amounts have been announced for the projects. While the Agency for Health project has been described as a “cancer moonshot,” Luce said, it plans to address other major medical problems, too, such as diseases of the brian, obesity, diabetes and health concerns. The program is aimed at serving a diverse population, he said. 

Luce said that was a key selling point to the administration.

“Texas had a diverse population that represented the future,” he said. “We’re young, but we’ve got seniors, too, and we have a diverse population, Hispanic, African American, East Asian. You name it, we’ve got it in Texas.” 

Fort Worth was also important to landing the entire project here, as opposed to other sites around the country vying for the designation and accompanying federal contracts. 

“It was very competitive,” said Luce. 

One key to winning the bid were two North Texas congressional leaders, Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, and Rep. Jasmine Crockett, D-Dallas, Luce said. 

“They were very committed to this project,” he said.

Luce said Granger, who is head of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, visited with the Agency for Health in person. That show of support was very important, he said. 

Granger said the strength of the Texas consortium team was that it offered so many health care and education providers that the area is a perfect location for a biotech and life sciences hub.

“I was pleased to work with Congresswoman Crockett to successfully push for a consortium approach” for the new Agency for Health hub, Granger said in a statement. “And I’m delighted that John Peter Smith, the University of North Texas, the University of North Texas Health Science Center, Texas Health Resources, the University of Texas at Arlington and others will be part of this important work.”

Luce said Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker also weighed in to help push the effort. 

“It really showed this was a community effort, that we were all together on this,” he said.

Robert Sturns, economic development director for the city of Fort Worth, said the win will be a big asset for the medical business community. 

“It presents a great opportunity to strengthen workforce pipelines in our local health industry alongside university partners like UNT Health Science Center and TCU’s Burnett School of Medicine, and also opportunities for collaboration with the hospitals and clinics located throughout Fort Worth’s Medical Innovation District,” he said. 

Helping shepard the area’s pursuit of the designation was Fort Worth public affairs firm Highwater Strategies, which has offices in both Fort Worth and Washington, D.C. 

“Coordinating and working together was key to this,” said Kasey Pipes, a co-founder of Highwater Strategies. “It’s going to be key going forward, too.” 

“Granger was able to make the case directly to the administration about why Dallas-Fort Worth made the most sense,” said Pipes. 

Pipes said the second key to the win was what Dallas and Fort Worth brought to the table. 

“We have a wonderful array of innovation and research and medical infrastructure already in place,” he said. “It’s having UT Southwestern as an anchor, but then it’s having all of the spoke pieces, at JPS and other health care providers throughout the Metroplex and the region, that can all be a part of this work.” 

The Agency for Health is a $2.5 billion effort created in the wake of the pandemic by the Biden Administration last year and modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the research and development arm of the Department of Defense. That agency is credited with helping invent or popularizing technologies such as the internet. 

The strength of the Dallas-Fort Worth area’s life science market was recognized recently by real estate firm CBRE, which named the area one of the top emerging life sciences markets in terms of size, institutions, talent and rapid growth alongside Nashville and Atlanta.

North Texas’ total life sciences labor pool has increased by 17% (26,000 workers) since 2019, surpassing the average national growth of 13.7%, according to the CBRE report. Research & Development employment in life sciences in DFW has increased 44.5% since 2019. 

“DFW has all of the pieces assembled to become a dominant force in the life sciences sector,” said Chelsea Story, vice president with CBRE’s Life Sciences, in a statement. “Our region attracted $1.6 billion in life sciences venture capital funding between 2018 and 2022, and the only limitation we have is the demand for life sciences facilities outpacing supply. Life sciences companies want to be in DFW and utilize our growing talent, and as developers continue to build and deliver new space, the sector will continue to grow.”

UTA is also leading an effort funded in part by Lyda Hill Philanthropies to secure a federal contract for North Texas and Oklahoma to become a biomanufacturing hub. 

Interested organizations may find information about the project at the Agency for Health website

Marriott Westlake getting an update 

A joint venture of two Dallas-based companies — NewcrestImage and Dabu Group — has acquired the Marriott Dallas/Fort Worth Westlake. The hotel features architecture by award-winning Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta, who also designed the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.

Newmark Lodging Capital Markets arranged the sale on behalf of the seller. The 294-room Marriott will undergo a complete renovation.

Eggs, grits and a side of innovation 

Denny’s has long served Grand Slam breakfasts, omelets and sobering cups of coffee. Now, the Spartanburg, South Carolina-based diner is offering $25,000 in seed money for entrepreneurs and innovators. Called the Denny’s Trillion-Dollar Incubator Contest, the chain wants to be the launchpad for the next trillion-dollar concept. The catch? The idea must originate in a Denny’s booth.

From now through Nov. 21, entrepreneurs and creative thinkers are invited to submit their idea and a high-quality photo capturing their Denny’s visit where the concept began. Following the entry period, 10 semifinalists will be selected for a nationwide vote. The five semifinalists with the most votes will be eligible to present their idea to a panel of judges, who will evaluate the idea based on creativity, innovation, originality and the “visual quality of your Denny’s booth snapshot.”

While only one entry will be crowned the ‘Grand’ winner, taking home $25,000 to fund their concept, both semifinalists and finalists in the Trillion-Dollar Incubator Contest will receive Denny’s gift cards valued at $100 and $500, so they will have plenty of money to spend while they work out their ideas over pancakes and coffee. The grand prize winner will be announced in early 2024.

Do you have something for the Bob on Business column? Email Bob Francis as

Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

Creative Commons License

Noncommercial entities may republish our articles for free by following our guidelines. For commercial licensing, please email

Robert Francis is a Fort Worth native and journalist who has extensive experience covering business and technology locally, nationally and internationally. He is also a former president of the local Society...