What's Commish John Wiley Price's Real Beef With the Inland Port?

I will put my bleeding heart up next to anybody's bleeding heart. Community activist and blogger Sharon Boyd once told me, "Schutze, you're so liberal you won't even take your own side in an argument."

I favor most forms of affirmative action, especially where minority contracting is concerned. Tell me any of that stuff about how the white boys used to carve up the pie for themselves at the country club: I believe it all. To me it's extremely important to open the doors, break down the barriers and create a level playing field.

But even on a level playing field you have to know what the damn game is.

Richard Allen is trying to figure out what Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price means when he says Allen must provide equity in his company to minority investors.
Courtesy of The Allen Group
Richard Allen is trying to figure out what Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price means when he says Allen must provide equity in his company to minority investors.

For the last three years Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price has been brow-beating a major investor and developer in Southern Dallas over something Price calls variously "equity" or "minority investment opportunity" in the developer's company.

That company, The Allen Group of San Diego, can't get a straight answer about what either of those terms means. I have had several conversations myself with Commissioner Price, trying to get him to tell me. I get the same thing from him that The Allen Group does—a lot of talk, a lot of vehemence, a lot of vagueness.

Ominous vagueness.

The Allen Group has amassed 6,000 acres of land in southern Dallas and Dallas County for a project promising to bring more than 60,000 new well-paid jobs to a severely depressed area. It is the prime developer of what is being called the southern Dallas inland port—a vast rail, trucking and warehousing center that could transform economically blighted South Dallas into one of the nation's primary shipping hubs. I have written about this deal several times, twice in the last 30 days. I hope I'm not getting too OCD about it.

But look: The economic analysis touted by both the city of Dallas and The Allen Group shows the inland port eventually generating 31,000 new "direct" jobs (in the port itself), 32,000 "indirect jobs" (suppliers, service, hotel, etc.), $2.4 billion in new tax base for the cities of Dallas, Wilmer, Hutchins and Lancaster and for Dallas County, with a $68.5 billion total economic impact in the region by 2035.

Given the city's appalling history of racist neglect in southern Dallas, this promise of real jobs seems almost miraculous. But Commissioner Price is derisive of these jobs. In fact, he is derisive of jobs in general. Whatever he means by equity, it definitely does not mean jobs.

We argued about it on the phone. "To get equity," I said, "that's simple. You have to put in money. You buy equity."

"But that's not the problem," he said. "You have to get the opportunity to get there to do that. It wasn't the fact that we didn't have people who could perform. Equity in that particular scenario is ability. You don't have to have any money to get involved in that. The commerce and the equity is our intellectual capital."

I still don't get it. If the word "equity" is used to mean ownership, and if you're talking about The Allen Group, which owns land, then the way to get an ownership stake in that company is to put some money in. You can't get land with "intellectual capital," whatever the hell that is anyway. You can't even buy groceries with intellectual capital.

You buy land with money.

I asked him several times what he meant by equity. A chance to get contracts with the company? A share of the company itself? But he would not be pinned down.

"Either way, Jim. I don't give a damn how you try to define it. We understand the difference. We understand when we're getting locked out."

We argued a lot about the job thing. In a letter to The Allen Group, Price had said, "During slavery everybody had a job."

When Price and I talked about it on the phone, I said, "During slavery nobody had a job."

He said, "They did have a job. What was it called then?"

"It's called slavery," I said. "They stole their lives."

"Slavery, Jim, that's an institution. And the effort of the institution was working. And working traditionally is a job.

"I am going to tell you," he said, "the nickname that most African-Americans have for a job. It's called a slave."

So jobs suck; 63,000 new, well-paid jobs suck.

It's one thing for Commissioner Price and me to argue this point. But put yourself in the shoes of Richard Allen, CEO of The Allen Group. On a series of issues from water rights to building a bridge to the creation of a special trade zone vital to completion of The Allen Group's development, Price has thrown roadblocks in the company's way. At the same time, he has peppered the company with demands for "equity."

At the behest of Price two years ago, the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG), which was funding a major bridge project in the inland port, demanded that Allen "describe the efforts and results to date of The Allen Group's work to identify local minority investors."

Richard Allen was puzzled. Anyone of any ethnicity was free to approach him at any time with an offer to invest in the inland port project. But to make the point clearer, Allen tells me he purposefully set aside a parcel of land within the development area, then approached prominent black business persons to see if they might be interested in investing.

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Well, now we know!  They weren't greasing his palms!