As part of its international business strategy, the City of San Antonio’s Economic Development Department is creating a database of residents who have cultural, business, or educational connections to several cities around the world.

In other words, if you are a global influencer living in San Antonio, City officials want to hear from you. Bonus points if you have ties to one of the five international cities they are targeting for expanding San Antonio’s trade opportunities: Tokyo, Seoul, Frankfurt, Toronto, and Mexico City.

Gathering these names through an international community survey is one effort among several the City is focusing on to boost foreign direct investment, trade, and collaboration as part of its Passport San Antonio program. Anyone who has expertise or connections is eligible to participate.

The online survey became available Monday.

“It’s [about] narrowing and focusing our efforts in particular markets, so that we can get more depth and strengthen those connections a little more substantially at the educational level and the cultural level and at the business level,” said Alejandra Lopez, director of the economic development department.

The program comes from the city’s participation in the Global Cities Initiative (GCI), a joint project of the Brookings Institution and JPMorgan Chase that began in 2012. San Antonio was one of six pilot communities selected in 2014 to work with Brookings on developing a foreign direct investment strategy.

“We’ve gotten to the point where we’ve identified targeted metros, and then it was about identifying what are the best strategies to engage those metros,” Lopez said. One of those strategies is the international community survey.

City officials hope the survey will result in a listing of people in San Antonio who can connect the people here with those in other parts of the world, said Amy Contreras, economic development manager for the City of San Antonio. It could be anyone, from someone who studied abroad during college to the leader of a local company with business ties in another country.

“Our goal is to reach deeper into San Antonio residents, to go beyond the chambers of commerce, into the schools, into the local diasporas,” Contreras said. “Many times, it’s not necessarily the business relationship that starts the relationship. It’s going to be some sort of cultural exchange, or it could be an educational connection. It can be very, very broad.”

Previously, much of the networking between the City’s economic development officials and people in targeted cities and industries relied on informal connections or reaching out to people in San Antonio who have apparent expertise, such as through local universities.

Though that will continue, Contreras said, the survey will establish a larger, more formalized network of people with resources and connections.

In the case of Mexico City, the network is already well-established. The foreign trade office, Casa San Antonio, provides businesses in San Antonio, Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Monterrey with business contacts and other trade guidance, and the nonprofit San Antonio Mexico Friendship Council also supports economic and cultural ties between this city and Mexico.

The goal of Passport San Antonio is to extend those kinds of ties with other cities abroad. Last fall, Contreras said her office was preparing for a trip to Seoul to meet with business groups there. “We started talking about how Seoul had really been identified as a target market for us, and we had people mention how they had been in Seoul and they had contacts there,” she said. Elected officials, City staff, and area business leaders were able to meet with some of those contacts during the mid-October trade mission.

A similar trade mission is planned for the Canadian cities of Toronto and Montreal, and Contreras said they have invited local cybersecurity and information technology educators along.

“In Canada, they’ve just announced a very large procurement process for businesses,” she said. “Some of our local cybersecurity companies can bid on those, but they need local Canadian partners. The goal is for our businesses to create a network there to connect with the Canadian businesses.”

Also during that trip, they hope to align San Antonio’s educational programs at both the university level and in area school districts with those cities through an exchange of best practices, she added, “because we know that we’re going to need a really well-developed workforce.”

Those who register for Passport San Antonio through the survey will receive a regular newsletter with more information about opportunities to participate in trade missions, exchange programs, hosting visitors, and other related activities.

In addition to the survey and database, through Passport San Antonio, the City is also providing information and resources for local companies looking to export goods to other countries, or for businesses that want to do business in San Antonio.

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.