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January 23, 2004
Print edition

D-FW execs see better times ahead — survey
Stephanie Patrick
Staff Writer

Karen Shelton and her employees at T&S Software weathered the storm that ravaged Dallas-Fort Worth’s telecom industry during the past few years, while 20 of the telephony product providers’ clients faded into oblivion.

The Richardson-based company, which survived by cutting back its staff by more than half and sacrificing many employee perks, pulled in $3 million in revenue last year with work from five steady clients. Now business inquiries are up and two deals are pending this month. One deal could garner T&S $20 million over the next five years.

“I believe we will increase our revenue by 25% this year,” Shelton said.

She’s not alone in her optimistic outlook.

More than 90% of Dallas-Fort Worth executives, including those at some of the nation’s largest companies, expect business conditions to improve in the next six months, according to a just-released survey by Dallas-based executive consulting firm Randall James Monroe Inc.

Of the more than 150 local executives surveyed, those in manufacturing, telecommunications and professional services all reported they expect improvement. Software, information technology and retail were among sectors also showing renewed optimism.

“This may be due, in large part, to steady improvement of stock market conditions and encouraging corporate earnings reports,” said Randall Neal, RJM’s chief executive. The company’s clients have included General Motors, Perot Systems and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co.

“I am pleasantly surprised by the findings. We noticed an increase of activity in October and November,” he said.

After adding companies outside the Metroplex to the mix, RJM’s survey found 91% think business conditions will improve. That’s up from 73% in a similar report six months ago and 61% at this time last year.

“When it comes to improved business conditions, you crawl a little, but then you walk a little. Pretty soon you can run,” said T.D. Dickey, longtime chairman of Dallas-based Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants Inc., whose business saw a solid 4% increase in same-store sales in 2003 and expects the same this year. The company, which has 55 stores nationwide, recently opened a store in Corsicana and has six stores under construction in the Metroplex.

Dickey said the company also has seen its catering business increase as other businesses revive their spending on extras. The company also is “robustly” hiring store managers and assistant managers.

While hiring is often a lagging indicator of improved economic times, the RJM survey found 45% of Metroplex executives expect hiring to increase during the next six months.

Louis Gasper, associate professor of management at the University of Dallas, said much of the renewed confidence comes simply because businesses have survived the shakeout of the economy in the last few years and are ready to move forward.

“Businesses love stability of their framework,” he said.

According to Neal, manufacturing companies locally were more optimistic that hiring will increase than their counterparts nationwide.

That doesn’t surprise Vincent A. Rego, chairman and chief executive of McKinney-based Encore Wire Corp., which has hired 100 people in the last three months. Many of the positions were for machine operators, inspectors and shipping staff.

“We are in the market now for machine operators,” said Rego, who added that the copper wire and cable manufacturer (Nasdaq: WIRE) was able to pick up additional business when one competitor filed for bankruptcy protection and another made cutbacks. Encore has 700 employees.

David Pailin Sr., president of Dallas-based Pailin Group Professional Search Consultants, said he’s “cautiously optimistic” that the economy will improve. However, he expects more layoffs nationally, particularly in finance and banking, as mergers in the financial sector continue. His company is performing 25 searches in the Dallas area and several more nationally through its offices in Philadelphia and Atlanta.

“We have seen more activity to date this year than we did (for the same period) last year,” he said. “The first quarter is typically our busiest time.”

Contact DBJ writer Stephanie Patrick at spatrick@bizjournals.com or (214) 706-7121.