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Nike’s planned distribution center in Dallas County hits snag over lack of diversity at the top

Don Ryan
Discussions about a distribution center in Wilmer ran into problems after Dallas County commissioners raised questions about a lack of diversity in Nike's managment.

The corporate sports apparel juggernaut Nike has its sights set on building a “major distribution center” in Wilmer, Texas, in southeast Dallas County. The company is seeking ten years' worth of county tax breaks in order to commit to the project.

But a vote on the proposal has been delayed for the second time. Two weeks ago, county commissioners wanted more time to read the company’s latest report on diversity in the company’s hiring. Now, the company asked that it be removed from the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting.

Nike did not return emails seeking comment.

Luis Tamayo, director of planning and development at Dallas County, confirmed to KERA that Nike representatives requested to not present the abatement on September 20. He said he hopes to meet with them soon about the proposal.

Diversity at the top

The proposal says the $60 million project would bring 500 jobs that would pay an average salary of $37,000.

But those weren’t the statistics that drew the attention of commissioners earlier this month. They challenged Nike and their representatives on diversity among the company’s leadership. Currently, three of the 12 members of the company’s board of directors are Black, and the rest are white. None are Hispanic.

At the director level and above, Hispanic workers occupy 6% of positions, Black workers 6%, and Asian workers 14%. Overall, corporate workers at the director level and above are 30.3% racial and ethnic minorities, which is above the company’s target of 30%.

These numbers are included in Nike’s latest Impact Report.

They may be a problem in Dallas County. Census data estimates the county’s population is about 41% Hispanic and 24% Black.

“The only thing that is saving this ask is the fact that it is in the Southern sector,” said Dallas County Commissioner Elba Garcia at the meeting.

Dallas County’s tax abatement policy designates much of the Southern part of the county as “priority” or “strategic” areas, generally defined as census tracts with a median owner-occupied home value less than the County median. Officials want to spur economic development there.

“If we go down this road, we go down it begrudgingly,” said Commissioner John Wiley Price at the meeting, whose district included the area of the proposed distribution center.

Price told KERA Monday evening he had asked Nike some additional questions about the proposal and that the company needed more time to respond.

Garcia, with support of other commissioners, pulled the proposal for two weeks in order to read the company’s latest report with diversity data.

At the meeting, company representatives described the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) measures that they’ve taken in recent years, including combining its talent and DEI teams under the same leader.

“We are … committed to having an increasingly diverse team and culture,” Melissa Vaillancourt told commissioners. Vaillancourt is a longtime government affairs official with Nike. “We certainly choose who we do business with carefully and we seek partners who uphold and align with our values and commitments.”

Nike markets its shoes and athletic gear to customers using messages of social justice and diversity. The company also uses outspoken star athletes like Colin Kaepernick in its advertising.

Employees at Nike’s distribution centers are 88.8% racial and ethnic minorities. Retail employees are 77.3% racial or ethnic minorities, according to the company report.

Women hold 43% of Nike’s leadership roles.

Tax abatement

The proposal would reduce property taxes for Nike and its landlord in Wilmer: LPC Southport III, LP. Specifically, the deal would reduce by 50% any increases in the appraised value of real property, as well as business personal property — things like machinery, equipment, and computers.

It says the project “must … increase the County’s tax base by at least $35 million” within three years, and the project must employ at least 150 people by that time.

The tax abatement policy for the county requires firms to submit Equal Employment Opportunity data in its application but does not specify any benchmarks for racial or ethnic representation.

Eric Geisler, president of Economic Incentive Services, represented Nike at the meeting. He stressed that even though both the company and commissioners might wish for Nike’s leadership to be more diverse, it has strong goals for future DEI performance.

“This has been a long site selection process. This site was one of many that they were looking at,” said Geisler. “Whether we like them or not, incentives are kind of part of the equation these days.”

Geisler did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

More than one commissioner implied that the Dallas area was seeing enough demand that they could be choosy about who to entice with tax breaks.

“You're a publicly held company, you got to make sure the dollars and cents work out. I get it,” Commissioner J. J. Koch told Geisler. “But we’re not desperate.”

After reading Nike’s diversity report, Garcia told KERA she was even less inclined to support the abatement.

“I think at this point, I’m probably going to vote no,” she said.

Got a tip? Email Bret Jaspers at You can follow Bret on Twitter @bretjaspers.

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Bret Jaspers is a reporter for KERA. His stories have aired nationally on the BBC, NPR’s newsmagazines, and APM’s Marketplace. He collaborated on the series Cash Flows, which won a 2020 Sigma Delta Chi award for Radio Investigative Reporting. He's a member of Actors' Equity, the professional stage actors union.