20 Dallas-Fort Worth Companies Score Spots on Texas A&M’s Aggie 100

20 Dallas-Fort Worth Companies Score Spots on Texas A&M’s Aggie 100

Twenty Dallas-Fort Worth companies founded or led by Texas A&M graduates scored spots on this year’s Aggie 100, the college’s annual ranking of fastest-growing businesses.

Topping the list from North Texas is Dallas-based Modern Message, a technology company co-founded by 2004 A&M graduate Michael Ivey. The software firm, which developed a digital rewards platform for apartment residents, reported a three-year growth rate of 79 percent.

Modern Message, which ranked 738th on this year’s Inc. 5000 list with 2016 revenue of $2.7 million, works with about 2,500 apartment communities in the U.S. and Canada. Residents earn points that can be redeemed for prizes by creating social media content about their apartment community, taking online polls or surveys, paying rent or renewing their lease.

The company picked up $2 million in growth capital in June from venture capital fund AXA Strategic Ventures. It said it expects revenue to grow to $4 million to $5 million this year.

The McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship, part of the college’s Mays Business School, announced its 13th annual ranking at a ceremony Friday night at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field. To be considered for the Aggie 100, companies must meet specific revenue criteria and operate “in a manner consistent with the Aggie Code of Honor,” according to the university.

The top-ranked company this year is Lonquist Field Service Canada ULC, an oil and gas industry services firm with offices in Calgary, Austin, Houston, Denver and Wichita. Founded by 1987 graduate Richard R. Lonquist, the company posted a three-year growth rate of 223 percent.

Here is this year’s full ranking. Companies are located in Texas unless otherwise noted.

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New Rooms with Views: Hotel Count on the Rise in Central Dallas

New Rooms with Views: Hotel Count on the Rise in Central Dallas

Staff Photographer

As of this month, a two-block stretch of downtown Dallas contains nearly 600 new hotel rooms. That’s nearly 600 more than existed along the rejuvenated Commerce Street before 2016.

Each of the four hotels — including the first Marriott AC Hotel in Texas and the rebirth of an iconic Hilton — hopes to carve out a successful niche among the thousands of hotel guests who flock to central Dallas each year.

The developer of three of those hotels noted that several well-known brands have been underrepresented in central Dallas for years. But he allows that some of the gains he predicts for downtown may come at the expense of hotels further from the city’s core.

“Our downtown [was] missing these brands,” said Mehul “Mike” Patel, chairman, chief executive and founder of Lewisville-based NewcrestImage. “So why not go hard and fill that void.”

NewcrestImage owns 23 hotels, including 13 in Dallas-Fort Worth. The downtown portion of the portfolio includes three hotels carved out of two historic buildings.

The newest two are the AC Hotel, Marriott’s European-themed brand, and a Residence Inn, which includes compact kitchens and is geared to consumers planning longer stays.

The AC and Residence opened in mid-October at 1712 Commerce in the old Mercantile Commerce building, which had been vacant for more than 20 years. Renovations began in April 2015.

Next door, at 1700 Commerce, is a sister property — the Hampton Inn & Suites Dallas Downtown — which NewcrestImage opened last year in the old Allen Building, which was built in 1923.

Two blocks east on Commerce is The Statler, a rescued hotel that’s now part of Hilton’s Curio collection. It welcomed its first paying customers last week, following a $255 million redevelopment.

The openings are part of a major influx of new inns to the city’s center, including Uptown and East Dallas.

Renovation and preservation

The AC Hotel lobby and lounge are at street level in the Mercantile Commerce building, with guest rooms on floors 3 through 11. The Residence Inn lobby is on the second floor, with guest rooms on floors 12 through 21.

While preserving historic elements of the 1950s-era office tower, including a curved wooden stairway in the lobby and travertine walls at the entry corridor, the updated building includes the new bar, which hotel backers hope will have allure beyond the hotel guests.

“We hope we will see downtown residents” and workers, said Kellie Adams, general manager of both the Residence Inn and the AC, which was named for the brand’s founder, Antonio Catalan. He got his start in the hospitality business at his family’s small hotel in Navarre, Spain.

The Residence Inn offers free breakfast and in-room kitchens that include full-size refrigerators, a stove, dishwasher and dishes.

The two brands share a fitness center and an onsite laundry room.

Modern artwork, much of it highlighting Dallas’ skyline and bridges, is found throughout.

Still under construction is a 10-floor parking garage behind the Mercantile Commerce building, that will feature an indoor pool on the ground level to serve the two new hotels and the adjacent Hampton Inn.

A fire in late September pushed back the opening date back which is set for spring.

Patel declined to reveal the cost of the AC/Residence Inn project. City documents show that the three NewcrestImage hotels are in a tax increment financing districting. The developer is eligible to receive up to $10.5 million in aid from the city for the Mercantile Commerce project. The city documents, prepared in 2015, estimated the cost of the project at $54.9 million.

Both AC and Residence Inn are part of the rapidly growing “upscale” hotel segment, a category that also includes brands like Hyatt House and Hilton Garden Inn, according to STR, formerly Smith Travel Research.

“When you’re talking about the number of rooms under construction [nationwide], upscale is the No. 2 segment … with 60,000 rooms,” said Bobby Bowers, STR’s senior vice president of operations.

The fastest growing segment is called “upper midscale,” a category that includes Hampton Inn and Suites and also Fairfield Inn & Suites, which is coming to downtown Dallas next year, according to the hotel’s website.

The “upper midscale” segment is designed to appeal to a more budget conscious consumer.

STR places The Statler in the “upper upscale” segment.

In general, the STR categories correspond to price and amenities but there are nearly always deals to be found, especially during off-peak periods.

A spot check of room rates for Sunday, Oct. 22 showed the Hampton Inn had the lowest price per night, $159, with The Statler poised at about $200 a night depending on the view. The AC was $219 and the Residence Inn was $209.

Rate competition

When increased supply pours into a market, one of the big questions is what impact the new offerings will have on the overall room rates and occupancy rates in the area. More supply without a lot of new demand would mean lower rates.

STR figures show that between January and August of this year, the average price per night was $150.23, 0.1 percent lower than the same period a year ago in the central business district, which stretches from the Design District to the area around Baylor University Medical Center.

The occupancy rate was 69.5 percent, up by a scant 0.5 percent from a year ago.

Patel hopes to keep that number for decreasing by attracting new business customers, weddings and staycationers.

“We will draw from .. other parts of city, other parts of state,” said Patel. “There is demand shifting from Market Center and different parts of [DFW]. We will try to bring in more …business in downtown,” he said.

“Corporate customers would shift from different hotels,” he added. “Business shifts but there’s new demand also. People are moving into town, people are traveling.”

Some of those people, he hopes, work for Seattle-based Amazon, which set off a nationwide scramble among cities large and small in September when it announced plans to build a second headquarters, or HQ2.

Patel thinks North Texas can make a “compelling case.”

“We’re in the center of the states, low cost of doing business, land, there is opportunity,” he said.

Would that help his business? “Definitely.”

Twitter: @krobijake

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Will Dallas Isd Turn to Charter Schools to Avoid the State’s Accountability Hammer?

Will Dallas Isd Turn to Charter Schools to Avoid the State’s Accountability Hammer?

Staff Photographer

Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa wants to close down two schools and convert two others to charter schools to avoid harsh punishment from the state for their poor performance.

He declined to say which of the four failing campuses would be closed or change under his plan, which will be presented to trustees at a Nov. 2 board meeting.

Hinojosa knows the decision to close a campus is difficult and emotional, but he said DISD needs to take action before the state does.

There are three Dallas ISD campuses that have failed to meet state academic standards five years in a row: Edward Titche Elementary in Pleasant Grove, Thomas Edison Middle Learning Center and C.F. Carr Elementary School. J.W. Ray Learning Center has failed four years consecutively.

If one of those schools misses the mark again this year, that would force Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath to either close down the campus or replace the entire school board and superintendent.

“If I take a chance and they don’t make it, something is going to happen in August,” Hinojosa said of the failing schools. He added, “We’re not running from the accountability. We have something great we went to replace it with.”

Key to Hinojosa’s plan is using a loophole in a new state law aimed at promoting partnerships between traditional districts and independent charter operators. Legislators wanted to encourage such deals by giving districts that turns schools over to charters more money per student and a two-year break on state accountability standards.

But a provision in the law also gives the same benefits to a charter created and operated by a traditional school district working with a university or nonprofit. Hinojosa said he’s considering that option for two of the failing schools as well as for others campuses across the district.

Hinojosa estimates that the district could get an additional $1,400 per student at campuses that are converted to charters. That could quickly mean about $400,000 to $1 million more for those schools.

Charter schools are public campuses that operate free from some regulations that traditional schools must follow.

Hinojosa said he didn’t consider partnering with an existing charter operator, as the Fort Worth school district is. Dallas has had a contentious relationship with charters, and has lost about 34,000 students to such campuses.

“Three of my board members love charter schools. Three of my board members hate charter schools. And three are in the middle trying to figure out what I’m going to do next,” Hinojosa said. “If I put on the agenda that I want to partner with the charter school, they’ll put on the agenda that they want to fire me. ‘What are you doing collaborating with the enemy?’”

Hinojosa said he expects the four campuses to meet academic standards this coming August after benefiting from additional resources the district has been pouring into the schools. But waiting until August to know their fate would create too much chaos and uncertainty going into a new school year, he said.

Hinojosa did say one of the schools under consideration for closure has low enrollment and one is in a bad location.

The plan is likely to face considerable criticism from trustees who’ve balked at previous attempts to close J.W. Ray Learning Center and have actively fight against the charter school invasion.

Texas has increasingly found ways to boost charter schools in recent years by easing limits on how many are in operation and by passing legislation that will help them grow. Just this month the state received a $60-million federal charter school grant. Authorities want to use a portion of that to encourage more district-run charters.

Morath, who was a Dallas ISD trustee before he was named education commissioner, told charter school operators at their conference in Grapevine last week that he hoped the new law would spur innovation and ease tensions between them and traditional districts.

“I see regularly a fairly high level of animosity between the traditional sector and charter sector of our public schools,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be that way.”

Morath said he’s created a new division within the Texas Education Agency to work on district/charter partnerships under the new law. He also noted that many of the state’s most prominent charters — such as IDEA Public Schools and KIPP — grew out of programs within traditional districts.

While praising Dallas ISD’s existing specialized school-choice options — such as the new all-girls Solar Prep and the Barack Obama Young Men’s Leadership Academy — Morath said Texas districts tend to not scale up innovative programs like charters do.

“Then you’ve helped hundreds of kids when we had the opportunity to help hundreds of thousands of kids,” he said.

David Dunn, Texas Charter School Association executive director, isn’t worried that any move by traditional districts to create their own charters will further drive a wedge between them. He noted that Fort Worth and districts in the El Paso and San Antonio areas are all considering partnerships with charter operators.

“It’s not going to be an ‘either or’ but both,” he said. “We think it’s a good thing to have school districts open to innovation, to trying new things.”

He noted that a few districts — most prominently Houston ISD — already have district-run charter schools.

Hinojosa said he’s talked with Houston and Grand Prairie, which has a partnership with Uplift Education charters, to gain insight. He’s in talks with at least three universities and two nonprofits that have “technical expertise” in the area he wants future DISD-run charters to focus on, he said, He declined to provide more details other than to say he’s been talking with a former longtime superintendent now at a university and with officials at a program that has helped train principals.

If approved by the board, at least two campuses would move forward for charter conversion for the next school year. Others could come online if partnerships are approved in time

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Three More Of The Top Restaurants In Dallas TX

Three More Of The Top Restaurants In Dallas TX

It’s time to take another look at a few of the best restaurants in Dallas TX. There are some good ones for sure, and I mentioned in the last article that there are over 3500 of them, 3509 to be exact according to a top travel site. You need the complete Dallas experience, and you can’t have that when you eat at a crappy restaurant. So let’s get to looking at three more of the top restaurants in Dallas TX.

Lark on the Park is one of them, and it can be found on Woodall Rogers Freeway. How does brunch sound? Would you like a nice hanger steak? How about some cauliflower soup? I don’t know about that last one for me, but I can tell that this is a good place to enjoy a meal.

Wild Salsa is another good spot to get some food, and it is on Main Street. The picture of the tacos I saw on a travel site look great. They have queso blanco, which is a favorite of mine, and they also have beef barbacoa and so much more. People also say it is a good place to visit to have drinks, too.

Off The Bone Barbecue is the 3rd pick, and it is on South Lamar Street. This place serves up baby back ribs, pulled pork, charro beans, burnt ends, peach cobbler and potato salad. Need I say more? Well there is more for sure, and I would have to say that this is my favorite pick out of the three.

What would you say? Which Dallas restaurant are you going to visit first? I have to scroll up to remember the other two now after writing about Off The Bone Barbecue, what about you?

The Electrifying Dallas String Quartet Plays The Berman

Presenting a fusion of classical and contemporary music on traditional and electric strings, Dallas String Quartet Electric is an extraordinary act that comprises composer and violinist Ion Zanca, violinists Tatiana Glava and Melissa Priller, and bassist Young Heo.

Dallas String Quartet Electric will take you on a journey to the nexus of classical music and modern pop; where Beethoven and Bono collide.

"This will be one of the most spectacular musical performances of the season," says Elaine Hendriks Smith, Senior Director, The Berman Center for the Performing Arts. "Dallas String Quartet Electric has such a broad appeal with its blend of classical and contemporary music. It’s an excellent opportunity for the two worlds to unite at our beautiful venue," she says.

To learn more about Dallas String Quartet Electric, please visit www.dallasstringquartet.com. To purchase tickets, visit theberman.org or call 248.661.1900 from 10 am-4 pm Monday through Friday. Groups of 10+ call or email theberman@jccdet.org.

Download The Berman app, which is available at iTunes and Google Play. The Berman app features the latest news and information on the theater and its performances, the ability to purchase tickets, and the option to receive personalized notifications.

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The Berman Center for the Performing Arts is located at the Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit, D. Dan & Betty Kahn Building | Eugene & Marcia Applebaum Jewish Community Campus at 6600 W. Maple Rd., West Bloomfield, MI 48322.

The Berman Center for the Performing Arts is a beautiful, 600 seat state-of-the-art venue. The Berman showcases an eclectic variety of world-class entertainment for all audiences of Metro Detroit while showcasing the Jewish Community Center’s exceptional events.

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Lawyer with Cybersecurity Expertise Primed to Become Dallas’ New U.S. Attorney

Lawyer with Cybersecurity Expertise Primed to Become Dallas’ New U.S. Attorney

Dallas’ likely new top federal prosecutor brings with her a career battling cybercrime.

That happens to be one of the fastest-growing and most damaging crimes in Texas and across the nation. Which is why those in the local criminal justice community think Erin Nealy Cox is a good pick to lead the office.

Cox, a cybersecurity expert and former federal prosecutor in Dallas, was nominated by President Donald Trump to be U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas — an area that covers 7 million people in 100 counties in northern and western Texas.

Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz recommended her, and the Senate is expected to confirm her nomination. If so, she will become North Texas’ top federal law enforcement officer. Continue reading →