The San Antonio Chamber of Commerce recently hosted a reception to celebrate and recognize Mayor Ron Nirenberg and the newly elected and reelected members of the Council. Well over 200 business leaders attended for the opportunity to engage with our elected leaders. It was a casual and inviting event, facilitating friendly conversation, and our elected officials stayed the entire time. A sense of optimism permeated the gathering, due in part to the collaborative spirit that is in San Antonio’s DNA and our ongoing economic recovery.
A city truly benefits when its local government and its business community work together. As we rebound from the pandemic, my sincere hope is that our elected leaders will seek out the insight and expertise of our business community on the many issues we will need to address now and beyond. Our approach must include a balance of needs and an understanding of the interconnectedness of our community. Open communication and cooperation are particularly important.
So, as City Council gets to work and members assume their roles on council committees and begin to consider policy, we have several suggestions for areas of focus:
Continued support for businesses
Many business owners are still struggling. They are trying to operate their businesses and hire skilled employees while continuing to build consumer confidence. We encourage City Council to work with business groups to develop and implement policies and measures that will help our employers and get people back to work.
Continuing to offer resources like the City of San Antonio Recovery Grants to the businesses and industries affected by the pandemic, including local nonprofit organizations, will help many who are fighting to keep their doors open and the lights on.
Grow local talent
The November approval of the SA Ready to Work ballot initiative is a bold step to grow local talent and facilitate their hiring. With this initiative, our community has put a real and unmistakable emphasis on workforce development with a four-year dedicated revenue source.
To shape, evaluate, and modify the program to achieve success, we must have a transparent and continuous feedback loop between all partners, including business owners, local governments, contractors, trainers, academia, community members, and program participants. The skills that businesses need now will change over time, and we must continue to adjust to provide economic prosperity for all of our communities. We will retain, advance, and improve our current workforce with in-demand training opportunities for work and upskilling by working together.
The federal government has provided our region with unprecedented funding for local infrastructure and relief and recovery efforts. The business community would welcome a seat at the table to ensure we take advantage of this opportunity and recover together. A continued emphasis on eliminating food insecurity, improving mental health, and eradicating domestic violence is key given the strains on families caused by the pandemic.
During my time as president of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, I have worked with both the City of San Antonio and Bexar County to make simple, yet beneficial suggestions for infrastructure projects that help retain and expand businesses, such as installing traffic lights in highly congested areas, unclogging overgrown creeks that flood and degrade nearby high traffic nodes, and building crosswalks, sidewalks and bus stops in areas where the safety and accessibility of businesses were hampered. Continuing to work with the business community to identify and fund these types of impactful projects will enhance the cooperative public-private partnership climate in our city.
Protect our municipal assets
Two of our most important municipal assets, the San Antonio Water System and CPS Energy, must move forward with both a heart and an unmistakable focus on serving our communities while providing for the fiscal health of each organization. Right now, these utility companies are actively taking measures by offering tailored payment and assistance programs to make sure people and businesses are not disconnected and are able to pay off unpaid balances. In our estimation, this is the right path forward.
Both organizations are large and complex, providing substantial resources to the city’s General Fund, and both have or will have a vacancy on their governing boards. Having thoughtful business voices help fill those vacancies will bring additional depth, new ideas, and business community buy-in to board decisions.
Military and missions support
More than 75% of military service members and their families live in our local communities and not on the military installations that comprise Joint Base San Antonio. Our collective work must be focused on supporting these families and on maintaining and growing mutually beneficial partnerships that will secure and expand military missions and grow jobs. Additionally, we must continue to create opportunities to save the installations dollars.
Our local state legislative delegation and the Chamber recently championed a state law, which will take effect in September, allowing the Texas Department of Transportation to partner with Joint Base San Antonio to facilitate the timely provision of paving and other roadway services on the installations. This partnership will ultimately save money by using the state’s buying power and leveraging its transportation-specific skills and expertise. Our elected leaders and the business community must continue to identify these types of opportunities.
The other key opportunity is a sustained effort in hiring military spouses and service members transitioning to civilian life. Meaningful employment will keep these talented individuals in San Antonio, and the business community has a clear role in this opportunity.
As a former city council member, I know firsthand the pressures that the new members will face as they begin to understand the complex workings of City Hall, embrace the role of municipal policymaker, balance what sometimes seem to be conflicting priorities, and act in a responsive way to constituents. It is important to take time to hear from the multitude of constituencies that inhabit this place we all call home and learn about how public policy decisions have implications in many aspects of people’s lives and on diverse businesses activities.
If we have learned anything during the pandemic, it is that a successful tomorrow is not guaranteed. However, with a new, energized city council; a vibrant, invested business community; human and financial resources; and a commitment to work together as one city, we can make San Antonio a place for unlimited opportunities.