Philip Williamson, the Honourable Peter McGauran, Mayor Betsy Price, Sean Donohue

Mayor’s International Luncheon Focuses on Fort Worth-Australia Successes

Panelists: Betsy Price, host and Fort Worth Mayor. Sean Donohue, CEO of Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, who previously served three years as COO of Virgin Australian Airlines. The Honourable Peter McGauran, Australia’s Consul-General and Senior Trade and Investment Commissioner, based in Houston. Philip Williamson, former Chairman, President and CEO of Williamson-Dickie Mfg., which his family sold in 2017.

“We fit like a hand in a glove. Australians are obsessed with western culture.”

And that succinctly sums up why Australia has become a leading partner in developing business and tourism exchanges with Fort Worth and North Texas, according to The Honourable Peter McGauran. He was a featured guest for the Chamber’s presentation of the Mayor’s International Luncheon Oct. 2 at Colonial Country Club.

Donohue, born in New England – Yes, he’s a Patriots fan — has worked in Sydney Australia and Fort Worth. He explained the many similarities?

  • “It starts with people. How friendly, hospitable and genuine people are in our region. Australians are much the same way.”
  • Business — “Australians are very competitive; they want to win. But it’s ‘A fair go,’ which means compete hard, but do it the right way.
  • Sports—“We’re passionate here, but Australians are CRAZY! Rugby, cricket, soccer… You think baseball is long? Cricket can go five days.”
  • Food & drink—Food is king, “but I’ve never seen people in my life who can drink so much beer.”

There’s more. Price said everyone is “very friendly; in downtown Sydney, everyone always is offering to help. People wear boots everywhere. And there’s real technological entrepreneurship.”

Donohue offered his perspective on the importance of international tourism. “We have more than doubled international flights the past five years. A lot of credit goes to American Airlines; its investment has been incredible.

“The one flight a day to Sydney already is the second-largest route revenue generator internationally.” International visitors, he said, spend time and dollars, already over $100 million in this region.

Yet, he and the Mayor agree that Fort Worth’s successes are not so well known outside the U.S.

“People know Texas in global terms,” Price said, “but don’t know DFW so well. Eight years ago, when I was first elected, there were 32 international flights. Today it is 66.

“International trips are about telling stories and finding (business) exchanges. In Australia, we saw many people wearing Dickies workwear. In our hotel, we had Renfro’s salsas and chips served to us by their distributor.”

McGauran said there are business opportunities to be had. Australia is the world’s 12th largest economy. “If Texas were a country, it would be 12th and Australia 13th, as Gov. Abbott keeps reminding me.”

He said Texas and Australia are very similar in GDP and energy and resources; both are services-based and have all the latest technologies – AI, robotics, fintech. Australia also is big in aerospace and has excellent infrastructure.

What is Fort Worth’s international pitch?

Price said “tourism is the starting point. Every Australian gets four weeks of vacation and, on average, travels for three of the weeks. And if they stay in Fort Worth, they likely will want to do business with us.

“Land prices here are great, there are not a lot of regulations, great people, speak the same language. The F-35, Bell, Dickies … The response, when they get here, is great; they just don’t know us.”

McGauran added that Australia has little-to-no manufacturing. “The advanced manufacturing and low energy prices here are unbelievable,” he said.

McGauran had some thoughts on what it takes to get deals done between the two areas. First, Fort Worth has to understand Australians and how they do business. “Our economy is humming. We’re one of the top five countries to do business with, maybe No. 1 for banking. It’s easy to get credit,” he said. “We have a well-governed economy. You can’t win an election if you don’t advocate low taxes and balanced budgets. You have to know our market, understand purchasing habits, the importance of privatization, including airports.”

McGauran did offer a free bit of advice. “DFW has an incredible airport and we need to talk with American Airlines about longer layovers.” He said there’s much here to capture tourist dollars. “The Stockyards, the western culture, tours of the Dallas Cowboys stadium, Lockheed and Bell.”

Facebook was the presenting sponsor of the luncheon.

Price told attendees “you should all go to Australia, but take your Ambien.” Donohue said if you go, go direct. Connecting in L.A., it’s like a root canal.”

Becky Renfro Borbolla, owner and vice president of Renfro Foods: “Everybody, no matter where you were in Australia, was very friendly,” she said. “And I’ve visited so many places where they aren’t friendly.”

Dave (The Lone Roo) Appleton, born in Australia and living in Fort Worth, is a former world champion bull rider. He was in attendance and visited with McGauran, “a close friend.”

There were desserts on the table, but a special treat was Tim Tam, an Aussie chocolate biscuit that tastes similar to thin mint cookies. Tim Tam is a favorite of Chamber Executive Vice President Brandom Gengelbach, who lived in Brisbane three years. “Best export to come out of Australia,” he said, “better than the Bloomin’ Onion.” Gengelbach went to Target near Ridgmar Mall and bought a box for each table.