Cities are like people in that each and every one of us has a unique personality, skill set, and experience. No two of us are alike, not even brothers and sisters in the same family.
How different is Dallas from Houston, despite both being large cities with metro populations around 7 million situated in the great state of Texas? Dallas has a reputation for being somewhat pretentious, while Houston is an oil capital with a huge manufacturing base.
Austin and San Antonio are “sister cities” along the short stretch of I-35 that joins Central and South Texas. Austin is the energetic, hip, and unrepentantly weird sister, while San Antonio is attractive, but not quite as smart and hip. She is sweet and family-oriented, has endearing, traditional charm, and everyone likes her. They’re from the same family, but they have different personalities. Can these two sisters ever really go into business together? That is the question.
In the early 1980s, San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros tried hard to attract a computer consortium to San Antonio, but many opportunities were lost to Austin. Cisneros concluded that Austin would win those competitions because of its “techness,” but San Antonio could take on much of the manufacturing. Thus was born the concept of the Austin-San Antonio Corridor.
A popular book of 1982, Megatrends by John Naisbitt, named the Austin-San Antonio Corridor as one of the key growth areas of the United States. There is no questions both cities are booming and growing closer together. The cities in between may not like the idea, but Schertz, Cibolo, and New Braunfels are included in the San Antonio-New Braunfels Metropolitan Statistical Area while Buda, Kyle, and San Marcos belong to the Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos MSA. The fresh water meets the salt water somewhere south of the Prime Outlet Malls and the Creekside Town Center, so to speak. Can these two cities ever blend into one megapolis? Who knows.
A few years ago, I discussed with County Judge Nelson Wolff the possibility of the Florida Marlins relocating to San Antonio. Wolff said that only if Austin joined San Antonio together would we have the mass of population needed to engage the TV and radio media needed to make it work. Since the media drives revenue streams, we have to compete with Houston and Dallas for a share of the Texas media pie, and only together do we have the necessary mass. Red McCombs recently referred to the same concept when he rejected the notion that San Antonio should seek a AAA ball club. He was emphatic that San Antonio and Austin need to unite in order to bring in an MLB team rather than a smaller franchise.
Then there is the discussion of a regional airport: Do we need one?
San Antonio International Airport lacks direct connections and size, whereas Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is larger and can easily be expanded. My conclusion: we already have a regional airport in Austin.
We like to trumpet the fact that San Antonio is the seventh largest city in the U.S. by measure of population. While that is true, it is not meaningful. Austin is a few years away from passing San Antonio in metropolitan population, which counts all of the surrounding counties for both cities. Then, there is the GDP measure of a city’s actual productivity, the total of our goods and services produced. Austin recorded a 28.1% increase from 2010 to 2015 ($120 billion in 2015), while San Antonio saw a 25.2% jump to $109 billion. San Jose topped the list with a 36% increase. Houston was 4th with $503 billion and Dallas 5th with $486 billion, according to data compiled by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Analyzing the GDP increase from 2014 to 2015, however, San Antonio (5.9%) beat Austin (5%).
So, is San Antonio not growing? It is, but Austin is growing a bit faster. Like every member of a family, San Antonio needs to be happy with who it is and celebrate its unique talents, history, and charm. Together, we need to work hard to make our strengths even greater.
Besides, I think being “weird” is overrated.