Think for a moment about San Antonio’s largest private-sector employers.
The top 10 in San Antonio last year were, by number of employees: USAA, Methodist Healthcare System, Wells Fargo, Baptist Health System, JPMorgan Chase, Six Flags Fiesta Texas, Toyota, Southwest Research Institute, Frost Bank, and SWBC, according to the San Antonio Business Journal. You can surely also add H-E-B, Rackspace Hosting, and Valero Energy to the mix.
If you’ve lived here even a short time, probably not.
As a former president of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and now a councilman with a strong commitment to economic development, I am proud of our business community and I believe our large employers reflect the City’s diversified, stable economy.
Because of our economic strength, San Antonio weathers recessions better than most large cities in the United States. Between 2004 and 2014, a period that includes the Great Recession, San Antonio’s gross domestic product – the value of all of goods and services sold – increased 70% to $105 billion, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.
We’ve also increased our average incomes, per capita and per family, as well as our education levels.
Yet this is not to say we should be satisfied with the status quo or unwilling to overhaul the way we do economic development. We’re starting from a strong position, but the economy is changing, becoming ever-more knowledge- and innovation-driven.
Last month, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted that computer and information-technology jobs would be the fastest growing of all occupations, climbing 12 percent between 2014 and 2024. The income for these positions is enviable. Median pay in 2014 was $79,390 per year, compared to a median of $35,540 for all occupations.
We’re arriving at a turning point for our city. There’s a new energy in town, and we need to embrace it if we want to compete for 21st century jobs.
- Rackspace, a growing number of cybersecurity and IT companies, and collaborative ventures such as Geekdom are forming a nucleus of tech entrepreneurialism in San Antonio. They’re also bringing new leadership to the business community through TechBloc.
- Local universities, most notably the University of Texas at San Antonio, are investing in cybersecurity and cloud-computing research, with help from the private sector. We’re also seeing a proliferation of IT training programs such as Codeup. In other words, San Antonio is beginning to develop the workforce and academic support that software and Internet firms need to thrive.
- Mayor Ivy Taylor is committed to teaching our workers the skills they’ll need for higher-paying jobs through innovative training programs such as SA Works.
- The San Antonio Economic Development Foundation is on the cusp of a new five-year plan. In fact, City Council is expected to weigh in on the blueprint later this month. At the same, EDF Chairman Wayne Peacock and his board are gearing up to search for a new president. Mario Hernandez is retiring in June after playing a major leadership role in selling many marquee employers on San Antonio. A change in leadership is a good time to reevaluate an organization’s aims and how it goes about achieving them.
I’m not advocating throwing out our economic-development playbook or trying to mimic Austin. We’ve got too much in our favor, including a rising standard of living and a young and increasingly well-educated workforce, to upend our strategy for attracting and growing jobs.
Instead, we need to build our IT/cybersecurity and advanced manufacturing industries with the same focus and deliberation that we have health care/biomedicine and tourism – two of San Antonio’s largest industries, both well-represented among our largest employers. Let’s leverage these and other assets such as our military bases and aerospace companies to recruit new jobs and grow the businesses we already have.
We want San Antonio to become a vibrant city of opportunity. Broadening our economic-development strategy is how we do it.
*Top Image: City Councilman Joe Krier (D9) welcomes Frontier Airlines’ new services at the San Antonio International Airport. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.