There was enough leadership crowded into the Pearl Studio Tuesday afternoon to launch a startup city, but for many in attendance, the occasion marked the moment when this long-established city began engineering its own fresh launch, one propelled by new economic development strategies and leadership.
Officially, Tuesday’s event was organized to formally introduce and recognize CPS Energy executive Jenna Saucedo-Herrera, 29, as the newly named president of the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation (SAEDF), the entity responsible for attracting good jobs and employers to San Antonio and keeping the good companies and jobs created locally here. It’s a competition playing out in every U.S. city of any importance or interest, and one where San Antonio intends to become more competitive.
The occasion unmistakably signaled the arrival of a new generation of leadership stepping on to the stage in San Antonio.
“I am confident we have selected the best individual to lead the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation,” said SAEDF Chairman Wayne Peacock. “Jenna is a transformative leader, one with an incredible amount of passion for economic development and the San Antonio community. Her roots and her heart are in San Antonio and she’s ready to make a significant impact. This is an important time in San Antonio’s history; we must be at our best to shape the future of this great city. With Jenna’s leadership we will bring the community together – as a team – to propel us forward in an organized and efficient manner.”
Noting that venture capitalists from Menlo Park, Calif. were visiting USAA this week where Peacock is a senior executive, he said they came to Texas with an “Austincentric mindset” about the state. Peacock said Saucedo-Herrera’s job will entail changing that view and taking a city that is “secretly cool” and one day getting that secret out. Saucedo-Herrera, he said, was a “next generation leader” ideally suited to lead San Antonio’s many stakeholders in that undertaking.
“We looked far and wide and in the end, we found what we were looking for right in San Antonio,” Peacock said.
“I stand before you humbled and honored to lead the SAEDF and the SA community into our next era of economic competitiveness,” Saucedo-Herrera said after being introduced. “Like each of you, I believe in the tremendous potential we have in San Antonio. There’s a positive and intoxicating energy that I’m feeling…It’s clear that the community is ready.
“San Antonio is a town of opportunity, where anyone can feel like they’re a part of our community fabric,” Saucedo-Herrera continued. “We have the ability to make a meaningful difference and leave our mark. I believe today we are showcasing just what that opportunity can look like. That’s what makes us unique, that’s what makes us San Antonio…”
The afternoon program communicated across-the-board support for Saucedo-Herrera from the city’s civic and business leaders. Given her youth and relatively low public profile, Saucedo-Herrera inevitably will encounter doubters as she sets out to establish herself, but none were evident in the room Tuesday. The event was a succession of high level endorsements following last Friday’s unanimous selection vote by the EDF Executive Committee.
Peacock began by introducing Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, “that longtime advocate for economic development in San Antonio,” whose long career in public service included his election to City Council in 1987, months before Saucedo-Herrera’s first birthday. Wolff recalled his sit-down conversation with Saucedo-Herrera last week as she and two candidates from other cities met with a succession of local leaders before a final decision was made.
“I started to give her a lecture on how important Millennials are to San Antonio, and she waited a minute and then said, ‘You know, I am one,’” Wolff said, laughing and underscoring the generational shift in leadership underway in San Antonio.
Mayor Ivy Taylor offered her own endorsement next.
“You’ve heard from Wayne Peacock and from Nelson Wolff about the opportunities that we have before us as a community — our rapid growth, our ability to connect with young professionals because we offer what they are looking for: a chance to grow a business, a great quality of life, and a forward-looking economic development climate,” she said. “Today’s announcement of Jenna Saucedo-Herrera as the next CEO of our Economic Development Foundation will help us seize those opportunities. Our city and our country are undergoing a shift from old ways of doing business to new ways, from dwelling on past problems to focusing on what’s next. Jenna Saucedo is what’s next.”
City Manager Sheryl Sculley echoed Taylor’s sentiments.
“It’s a new day for San Antonio,” Sculley said. “The selection of Jenna Saucedo is a paradigm shift.”
David Heard, CEO of Tech Bloc, took to the podium next.
“I’m in tech, so it’s okay that I am wearing jeans,” he quipped in a roomful of people in dark suits and business dress. He then whipped out his smart phone to check his remarks.
“Our mission at Tech Bloc is to help build a San Antonio that can compete for the next generation of jobs and talent, and our future economy will be driven by technology,” Heard said. “States and localities spend $50-80 billion a year on tax breaks and incentives in the name of economic development. So what’s our return on investment? How do we ensure that we are increasing the quality of jobs for our residents and our overall quality of life? How do we build an economic bridge to our future prosperity?
“Part of that answer is expanding our traditional economic development programs to help foster more entrepreneurial activity, startup creation, retention and support, along with technology education and training for our workforce, especially inside the underserved portions of our population. We applaud this decision by EDF leadership to shake things up a bit. We are excited about this bold move to inject new energy and ideas, and all of us at Tech Bloc look forward to working with Jenna in building a prosperous, 21st century San Antonio.”
One year ago, when the search for a replacement for retiring EDF President Mario Hernandez began, the city’s leadership was divided into two camps: Older members of the Establishment wanted to select a successor from the ranks of local executives, someone who was a known quantity. Many Hispanic leaders wanted to assure someone who reflected the city’s majority continued to hold the position. Others, particularly younger generation leaders, pressed for an outsider, a change agent, a break with tradition, someone with fresh ideas.
Rebecca Quintanilla Cedillo, the chairwoman of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the next to speak, spoke with pride that the winning candidate was “a Bexar County Southside girl.”
Yet the last to speak, Sam Dawson, a principal at Pape-Dawson Engineers, agreed that in this instance the local candidate also fit the description of change agent.
“I was one of those who had my feet set in stone that we needed someone from outside San Antonio, someone fresh,” Dawson said. “Well, it turned out someone fresh and someone new is right here in San Antonio.”
It was an interesting moment in San Antonio’s evolution to witness, one example of the changing of the guard.
“To all of the influencers in the room, thanks for paving the way for me and our next generation of leaders,” Saucedo-Herrera said. “We have an incredible legacy to build upon, and I can’t wait to see us reach our fullest potential.”
Full disclosure: Robert Rivard performed consulting services for CPS Energy in 2013, and his wife, Monika Maeckle, continues to provide communications consulting there.
Top image: EDF President Jenna Saucedo-Herrera (center) with (l-r) Judge Nelson Wolff, Hispanic Chamber Chair Rebecca Quintanilla Cedillo, Sam Dawson, City Manager Sheryl Sculley, Saucedo-Herrera, EDF Chairman Wayne Peacock, Mayor Ivy Taylor and Tech Bloc CEO David Heard. Photo by Robert Rivard.