A site map of the TJX Distribution center in District 3 near Mission Espada.
A site map of the TJX Distribution center in District 3 near Mission Espada. Credit: Courtesy / Economic Development Department

When the TJX Companies went shopping last year for a place to put its newest distribution center, the city of San Antonio scored a deal — one that adds up to 1,000 new jobs to the community and other investments on the Southside.

City Council approved Thursday morning a 15-year non-annexation partnership for the 200-acre distribution center site and other related development agreements on 1,000 acres west of Mission Espada. The land is located in the City’s Extraterritorial Jurisdiction, where the discount retailer will begin construction on a 1.5 million sq. ft. distribution center this summer.

The non-annexation partnership comes with additional perks for the Southside community as well. It provides for a natural development buffer around the historic Mission Espada, part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and stitches together more than 13 miles of hike and bike trails on the Medina River Greenway to 14 miles of trails along the San Antonio River.

The company also has agreed to invest $150 million in the center and provide land for a new Southside Independent School District facility.

TJX began scouting for locations to build the distribution center in 2016, considering locations in northeast Texas, Dallas/Fort Worth, and Louisiana, along with San Antonio, that might provide an available workforce, 200 acres of land, and access to the interstate highway network.

TJX consultants and executives visited San Antonio several times, said Jenna Saucedo-Herrera, president and CEO of the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation. “TJX has a local approach to their process when looking at investing significant resources,” she said. “It is admirable, in my opinion, because they wanted to get to the know the community.”

But they eliminated San Antonio from consideration early on in the process.

“They thought we were too far away, from a logistics standpoint,” Saucedo-Herrera said. “But then our workforce and demographics profile brought us back into the mix — and the fact that we had a culture that was a good fit for their company.”

Bargain-hunters know TJX Companies better as the owner of T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, and HomeGoods. Led by CEO Ben Cammarata, T.J. Maxx opened its first stores in 1977. Now with more than 3,800 stores in nine countries, TJX annual sales totaled $33.2 billion at the end of January. In 2016, TJX was ranked #89 in the Fortune 500 listings and opened its 500th store.

Plans for the distribution center in San Antonio call for attractive fencing and drought-resistant landscaping in buffer areas along the road, a larger-than-required building setback, an earthen berm that will run parallel along FM 1937, parking lot lighting that is shielded to ensure no light trespasses beyond a property line, and other facility exterior lighting that is shielded. TJX will complete a required Traffic Impact Analysis.

“It’s a great opportunity, and I’m so excited to bring this opportunity to the Southside and to the southern sector,” said Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3). “It all kind of connects. We know we have our SA Tomorrow plan and we knew that there were more jobs coming, more people coming, and this is part of bringing it … and this is the right area to put this growth. We need to grow all parts of the city to really end our economic segregation, and with stable jobs and health benefits and 401ks, this is extremely important.

“It’s important not just for the Southside, but for the entire city.”

As part of the agreement, TJX must also form workforce partnerships with Workforce Solutions Alamo and Goodwill Industries to target hiring from populations with high levels of unemployment as they ramp up to full employment over five years.

“When we met with the company, they made it clear that they guarantee 40 hours a week of work,” said Mayor Ivy Taylor, who was involved in the process to bring TJX to San Antonio, according to Saucedo-Herrera.

“Many other companies that employ lower-skill workers don’t provide that many hours of employment and that makes it difficult to juggle schedules and they have to take on different jobs. So that stability is important as well, along with health care and benefits.”

Ten percent of the jobs will be managerial. And, although TJX isn’t bringing a high volume of coveted high-wage jobs, the opportunity is significant to the bigger picture.

“We have a comprehensive economic development strategy. So there are several measures of success,” Saucedo-Herrera said. “One is jobs, and two is high-wage jobs. But there are other indicators, like capital investment, which is key for our economy.

“We believe that if we are focusing on target-sector industries … it will benefit indicators like median household income, et cetera, and will better position San Antonio to compete globally. However, when a company approaches San Antonio, interested in investing $150 million in our community, partnering with our school districts and providing over 1,000 jobs, you talk to them. And you facilitate that process to ensure smooth entry into the market.

“Because these jobs will be life-changing for some San Antonians on our community’s Southside. That’s important to our broader service territory and it’s important to us.”

The company also has agreed to donate 15-20 acres to the Southside Independent School District.

“Southside ISD and our board were so impressed with the company’s commitment to partnership, we provided the Freeport tax exemption to help bring their company and others to the Southside ISD and the community,” stated Superintendent Mark Eads.

The Freeport Exemption is a personal property tax exemption for goods that are detained in the state for 175 days or less. Bexar County, the City of San Antonio, Judson Independent School District, and the San Antonio ISD offer the exemption to companies that deal with goods-in-transit or inventories used in the manufacturing process.

The Mission Espada buffer zone that is created through the TJX partnership is a unique feature of the project.

Increased green spaces and limited development of the 5,700 acres of mission land surrounding Espada and the other Spanish mission sites have been issues of concern for some time.

“The majority of this project is outside the buffer, but for the area inside, the conservation easement area, it is supportive of the land use goals already identified by community for that area,” said Colleen Swain, director of the World Heritage Office, referring to the trail system. “The fact that there will be conservation easement forever, it’s wonderful. It’s exciting that a company would set aside that many acres for conservation easement.”

But that spirit doesn’t surprise anyone who has been involved with the TJX project so far.

“Their culture is very humble. They aren’t about a big splash,” Saucedo-Herrera said. “They are not about patting themselves on the back, and championing all they do as a Fortune 100 company.”

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Shari Biediger

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