Choose San Antonio will showcase the best of the city’s tech, talent, food, music, and growing film industry for the tens of thousands of people who come from all over the world to attend Austin’s annual music and film festival and slate of conferences known as SXSW (South by Southwest).

The nonprofit dedicated to showing off the city announced the lineup for its second annual “Casa San Antonio” SXSW experience Wednesday night at Burleson Yard Beer Garden, 10 days before the Interactive Festival starts on March 10.

Daniel Martinez holds up his dog Charger at Burleson Yard Beer Garden at the SATX at SXSW Launch Party on March 1.
Daniel Martinez holds up his dog Charger at Burleson Yard Beer Garden at the SATX at SXSW Launch Party on March 1. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Wednesday’s launch, attended by Mayor Ivy Taylor, District 2 City Councilman Alan Warrick, and Centro San Antonio’s Noah Almanza, was Choose San Antonio’s kickoff for its second official appearance at SXSW.

“SXSW at SATX is really about that collaboration that shows [that] Austin is not the only cool city in Texas,” Warrick told the crowd of about 100 locals gathered at Burleson Yard. “San Antonio has so many cool things going on, so many great people moving to our city – 142 people every day – [who are] changing the landscape of our tech community [and] changing the landscape of our social and cultural community.”

Choose San Antonio is the brainchild of Eric Bell and Kevin Peckham. Their goal is to promote the city with the message that San Antonio is a great place to live – and they want to broadcast that in a big way.

“[SXSW] is like a world fair of creative and entrepreneurial talent,” said Peckham, chief brand strategist at Lightning Jar and a transplant to San Antonio. “We had people from 80 countries and 60 cities in the U.S. visit our booth last year. So one of the ways to get the word out is to reach influencers so they then spread your message faster.”

Three years ago, Peckham and Bell noticed San Antonio was conspicuously absent from the event.

“San Antonio was the closest city to Austin not showing up,” Peckham said. “Tyler, Texas was there before us, Denton was there, and they were all competing for talent at the trade show, saying why they’re the best place to move your business, to be entrepreneurial, to pursue your passion.”

From left, Kevin Peckham and Eric Bell, co-founders of Choose San Antonio, share a laugh at the SATX at SXSW Launch Party at Burleson Yard Beer Garden on March 1.
Kevin Peckham (left) and Eric Bell, co-founders of Choose San Antonio, share a laugh at the SATX at SXSW Launch Party at Burleson Yard Beer Garden on March 1. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

That changed when the two put their energy and capital behind Choose San Antonio and launched the largest activation of any city at SXSW.

“We’re not just competing with Denton, we’re not just competing with New Orleans or Louisville,” said Bell, vice president of corporate development for Group 42 and a San Antonio native. “When you show up at [SXSW] Interactive, you’re competing with Facebook, Mashable, Germany – you’re competing on a global scale. So we try to use our strategic advantage which is proximity and personnel.

“One of the things we learned from Google, Facebook, and even Rackspace is that lifestyle matters. When you’re looking for talent, whether you’re trying to hire them or recruit them to your city, they want to know there [are] world-class work and lifestyle amenities, communities they can live in that are walkable and bike-able and entertain-able. No one is pushing that message and we can help do that.”

With a budget of $200,000 last year, Choose San Antonio partnered with SXSW to host official events that attracted both crowds and attention – It even introduced two men from Scandinavia to their first barbacoa breakfast taco.

“Those experiences over a sustained period can alter the way people from other places begin to perceive what’s special about what’s going on in this city,” Bell said. “That’s not an advertisement, that’s not a radio spot. Those are tangible, real, tactile, and hopefully tasty experiences. [And] you have visitors take something home with them that begins to alter the framework about the way they consider our burgeoning community.”

Casa San Antonio @ SXSW is moving from its previous home on Austin’s Sixth & Trinity streets, where they hosted 3,600 badged visitors last year, to the Half Step Bar on 75½ Rainey St.

“Location, location, location,” said Meghan Garza-Oswald, executive director of Choose San Antonio. “We found that the people we were targeting [with our message] and the people we were looking to connect with were on Rainey Street.”

at Burleson Yard Beer Garden at the SATX at SXSW Launch Party on March 1.
Christian Reed-Ogba (left) and Meghan Garza-Oswald, executive director of Choose San Antonio, greet guests at Burleson Yard Beer Garden at the SATX at SXSW Launch Party on March 1. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The venue also happens to closely resemble homes in San Antonio’s Southtown neighborhood, she added, and the site worked well for SXSW Eco last fall.

Casa San Antonio @ SXSW begins Friday, March 10, at 8 a.m. with the second annual taco showcase, and includes speakers and official SXSW panels throughout the day. It will conclude with a Trinity University alumni mixer that evening and musical entertainment by local artists.

On Saturday, March 11, the day’s events begin with a “Taste of San Antonio Breakfast,” prepared by Cured Chef Steven McHugh, who will also present “Perfecting Your Craft During a Time of Adversity.” Other speakers include New York Times national correspondent David Phillips and NPR correspondent Sam Sanders. The day will wrap up with a San Antonio Spurs vs. Golden State Warriors watch party and a “Life is Better in Texas” shindig.

On Sunday, March 13, experts in cybersecurity will discuss how the city is becoming the next hub for the cybersecurity marketplace. Later on, Mayor Taylor and the City’s technology officers and entrepreneurs will showcase what attendees can expect at Smart City Day in San Antonio. A mixer sponsored by the Argo Group and a “Best in San Antonio Film” series follows.

For a complete schedule and to learn more, go to the Choose San Antonio website.

Shari Biediger

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