The health care and bioscience industry in San Antonio is booming. In 2017, it generated more than $40 billion in economic impact and employed one in every six workers in the city, according to a recent San Antonio Chamber of Commerce study.

But despite being one of the largest and highest-paying sectors in the city, comprising well-known physicians, scientists, and inventors, the local sector fails to compete at both the state and national level, according to local industry leaders.

This was the topic of conversation Tuesday morning during the BioMed SA Industry Action Plan presentation, where industry leaders made recommendations to help the city attract and recruit new health care and bioscience businesses, retain and grow local businesses, and increase and support entrepreneurship.

BioMed SA is a local nonprofit created to promote and grow San Antonio’s health care and bioscience sector to compete at a national and international level through strategic, data-backed initiatives. BioMedSA’s plan, developed by consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, targets key disease areas in which the local biomedical sector has “unique assets and recognized strengths.”

“San Antonio is home to a lot of breakthroughs in the field, but there hasn’t been a lot of commercial impact,” said Charlie Whelan, Frost & Sullivan’s vice president of consulting for North America. The firm spent more than one year gathering information from more than 120 local, regional, and national industry leaders, disease experts, and economic development professionals to form the action plan.

Building off existing expertise is one point of focus for the plan. Whelan explained while San Antonio is well-versed in the research and treatment of diabetes, infectious disease, cancer, neurological disorders, trauma, wound healing, and regenerative medicine, subject matter experts need to pay attention to opportunities to promote their achievements and knowledge.

“San Antonio is home to a lot of brilliant people,” he said. “Helping these people harness their skills, and raising their profiles at a national and international level, is a way to both support the industry and attract more talent.”

Other recommendations include incentivizing innovation and business success to attract new talent and spur growth, which could be done through incubator and accelerator funding programs that support new businesses, and expanding, identifying and building new funding sources through grant development and procurement.

Charlie Whelan, Frost and Sullivan’s vice president of consulting, North America, speaks during the BioMed SA Industry Action Plan presentation.
Charlie Whelan, Frost & Sullivan’s vice president of consulting for North America, speaks during the BioMed SA Industry Action Plan presentation. Credit: Roseanna Garza / San Antonio Report

“San Antonio is the weakest city in Texas when it comes to procuring funding” despite its knowledge assets, Whelan said, noting this could be remedied by employing a grant writer to provide free services to local companies.

The industry action plan – supported by the City of San Antonio, San Antonio Economic Development Foundation, and Texas Research and Technology Foundation – is part of the strategic plan to promote the economic development needed for San Antonio to be considered a top-performing city, known as Forefront SA.

“The plan highlights some real challenges that we are already working to address, [including] the skills and educational achievement of our students,” said Mayor Ron Nirenberg, noting the University of Texas at San Antonio’s urban core expansion project and pathway to becoming a Tier 1 research school, and “thriving” Texas A&M San Antonio on the South Side.

Whelan pointed to San Antonio’s “lack of an adequate skilled and educated workforce” as one of the biggest factors working against the industry. “While [schools] continue to make big strides, in the end [they] don’t compete,” he said, noting this is despite “research and development and other clinical assets that are world-class.”

BioMed SA Chair Walter Downing told the Rivard Report the group’s plan is intended to “position San Antonio to be a resource in key industry areas, and inspire [the community] to find new ways to leverage our expertise” to promote and sustain growth.

BioMed SA expects to host a series of workshops to help shape next steps for the 83 recommendations laid out in the action plan and drive ownership of specific initiatives within the sector.

“The plan consists of realistic and impactful opportunities to ignite economic growth that are necessary to help the whole industry go to the next level,” Downing said.

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.