A few days ago, I wrote about the online journalism site, Atlantic Cities, and the start of its weeklong look at San Antonio, our evolving economy, progressive efforts of the Alamo Colleges and its Alamo Academies to improve education and workforce training outcomes, and our early success at building Geekdom, the co-working space and tech incubator downtown. You can read that first article, “Atlantic Cities: An Upbeat Look at San Antonio,” here.
Friday, the Atlantic City editors reposted an interview with Mayor Julián Castro on their homepage, along with the photograph of Castro saluting the audience at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte after he delivered the keynote address.
I thought the most interesting comment made by Castro in the interview was his answer to a final question by Sophie Quinton, who covers the White House for the National Journal, the magazine that is partnering with the Atlantic magazine on its jointly reported and published “New Economy” series that led reporters to San Antonio:
Quinton: “I have to ask: are you planning to run for governor or any other office in the future?”
Castro: “I’m not going to run for governor anytime soon. But if I do a good job (as mayor), I’ll look around after my time here is done.”
The betting is that the political field and the state’s changing demographics will make Castro the strongest Democrat in two generations to run for Texas governor and break the long Republican stranglehold on all statewide offices, agencies, and appointments. That’s the leading scenario.
Here’s another one: This is pure fantasy, but won’t Castro have held elected office by 2015 – counting his years as a City Councilman – about as long as Barack Obama did before he decided to launch his presidential campaign? It’s a longshot, but one can envision a scenario where an increasingly better known and highly regarded Castro enters the early primaries, does better than expected against Hillary Clinton, and then, well … I realize it’s a long shot. In 2008, Pres. Obama was a longshot, too.
Castro is getting a lot of positive national press for the Pre-K for SA initiative, which voters approved the same day Obama was re-elected. The actualization of that initiative and the other goals in Castro’s SA2020 initiative gained new momentum Thursday when it was announced that his education policy advisor, Jeanne Russell, was named Chief Strategist at SA2020, a new position.
“Like the SA2020 vision itself, our mission is both challenging and bold, and cannot be executed without smart investments in a talented, skilled, and passionate team” said SA2020 CEO Darryl Byrd. “I have witnessed Jeanne’s ability to see the future, innovate, develop real-world strategies, and create the partnerships within the public sector, the business community, and the civic world to powerfully execute them. Her addition greatly expands our bandwidth as an enterprise.”
Castro credited Russell for helping develop and launch all the major education initiatives over his two terms as mayor.
“The fact is there would have been no Pre-K 4 SA or café college without Jeanne,” Castro said. “She is the unsung hero behind my office’s push to create a brainpower city that is ready to compete in the 21st century global economy.”
The new assignment positions Russell, who will still advise Castro on education policy, outside City Hall and in a place where she can bring together the diverse players and interests groups essential to making SA2020 a success.
“SA2020 is a collective vision of how we continue to strengthen San Antonio,” Russell said Friday. “We’ll do that by directly tying individuals and organizations into the goals set by thousands of citizens in 11 areas ranging from education to transportation, arts and culture and economic competitiveness.
“My job is to fully develop and coordinate strategies with lead partners, who provide content expertise and accountability in each of the cause areas, so that everyone is working together to ultimately achieve the outcomes we all agreed upon,” she said. “I will also continue to advise the Mayor on education, which is my lifelong passion and central to the success of SA2020.”
The Geekdom story, “Can San Antonio Displace Austin as Texas’ Tech Hub?” posted by Atlantic Cities this week, is a reminder that San Antonio is attracting more and more attention nationwide as a city of change. As the city continues to pursue what I call its Brain Gain agenda, its seems clear that the success of that effort will be built on San Antonio’s ability to better retain highly educated young professionals who grow up here while continuing to attract more and more young, talented creatives from elsewhere.
The photograph illustrating the story shows three such young people, Jeremy Zunker, Rafael Barroso, and Walter Teele Vera, cofounders of ParLevel Systems at Geekdom, a startup formed by six guys – three from San Antonio, three from Mexico – who have designed a program to remotely track real-time vending machine sales. This program’s commercial potential allowed ParLevel Systems to make the difficult cut to win a development slot with TechStars Cloud, the San Antonio chapter of the national tech accelerator program based in Boulder.
I first meet Teele Vera, one of ParLevel’s Mexican partners, when he was finishing his last year at Trinity University here, which was home in the ’90s to the Rackspace founders, and is growing its academic programs and curriculum to birth new tech breakthroughs. He is typical of the young, brainy, and decidedly independent young people attracted to San Antonio by its growing tech scene and the opportunity to find support for entrepreneurial startups.
San Antonio’s gains, however impressive, still are overshadowed by all the action 70 miles up I-35 in Austin, where the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) conference and festivals run March 8-17 and draws a global stable of talent. By Thursday, Atlantic Cities’s star futurist, Richard Florida, had posted an article on Austin’s indie music scene, “What SXSW Can Tell Us About the Geography of Indie Music.” What it tells us is that there’s no place like Austin.
One place Austin lags far behind San Antonio, however, is in the number of wealthy Mexicans who have fled the drug wars, corruption, kidnapping and general insecurity of their homeland to establish new homes and businesses north of the border. That trend was the subject of a story posted Thursday, titled, “Wealthy Mexicans Fleeing Drug Violence Find a New Home in San Antonio.” The article highlighted La Asociación de Empreasarios Mexicanos, a chamber of commerce for Mexican nationals living here than enables them to network, expand contacts and get timely access to business and civic leaders in the city and at the state level. The article points our that San Antonio is, in effect, the trade gateway from the United States and Texas into Mexico.
Exact numbers are hard to come by, but one Mexican consular official told me there are now more than 45,000 residents titled in the names of Mexican nationals in San Antonio. Retailers, especially those operating in venues such as North Star Mall and The Shops at La Cantera will tell you the Mexican national presence in the city – which greatly multiples during Easter Week, spring break, and the Christmas and New Year holidays weeks – has buffered the local economy against deep recession again and again. Real estate experts say the same thing.
What it all adds up to is more national press for San Antonio than its had in a very long time. What does it mean? Well, in the digital media world we now live, it means more is probably coming. Here’s the equation in words: Attention begets attention squared by Castro to the Second Power. All San Antonio has to do is continue changing and live up to its newfound reputation as a city of change.