The San Antonio nonprofit that has worked to assist businesses and industries move into the San Antonio region for the past 42 years has relocated to new office space downtown, one with panoramic views of the city its helping to grow.
On Sept. 5, the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation (SAEDF) moved from the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce building on East Commerce Street, where the organization formerly leased space, to the 26th floor of the Weston Centre in the central business district.
There, the SAEDF now resides in a bright, modern space of almost 5,000 sq. ft., with two conference rooms, nine offices, a break room, and common area for its 16-member staff, two of whom also live downtown.
“There were a lot of things that led to the move. We had outgrown the space. Our organization has evolved along with the city of San Antonio’s evolution. We’ve expanded our services,” said SAEDF President and CEO Jenna Saucedo-Herrera. “And to do that, you need top-tier talent and, in my opinion, you need a top-tier working environment.”
The new, more modern office space also is ideally located for collaboration with the growing business and tech presence downtown, she said, where 6,000 new workers have been added in the past year alone.
“And a lot of that activity is right here with the tech district,” Saucedo-Herrera said. “So it’s great for us to walk across the street for meetings, walk downstairs to the lobby and run into those types of people – the new San Antonio – and really relate to that evolution.”
And with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the urban core, SAEDF staff can physically point out project locations for prospects. In fact, the Weston Centre is often the first office space that business prospects see when they come to town.
“So of course, when we were negotiating leases, that was an advantageous position for us,” Saucedo-Herrera said. “Suffice it to say, we are paying a competitive rate for our new spot.”
Throughout the year, the SAEDF is working on responses to about 100 requests for information or proposals from businesses considering San Antonio for their next move. Some are more publicly known than others.
“It’s a target-rich environment for economic development these days,” Saucedo-Herrera said. “It’s interesting in my opinion how some of these projects, primarily the larger international projects, have been made public. There’s an entire public relations track running simultaneously with our project track. So in the past, we were actively working these projects under NDAs (nondisclosure agreements), working directly with the company and site selection consultants, and that’s where we were getting our information.
“Today, we’re still getting our information from those traditional points. But now we’re also reading media and finding out additional information that way. Toyota-Mazda is an example of that.”
She believes San Antonio is ready to accommodate that mega-plant, and even has a “shovel-ready” site at the existing Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas site. “Our community leaders, over 13 years ago, developed that site, anticipating that growth, so we have the ability to turn dirt tomorrow,” Saucedo-Herrera said. “We are actively communicating with Toyota on that project.”
She expects a decision to come later this year or in early 2018, with the plant in operation by 2021.
The initial Toyota project brought 1,800 jobs to San Antonio in 2003. It was the largest deal San Antonio had ever worked as a community – so big, many didn’t think San Antonio would prevail. In the end, it brought almost ten times the number of jobs SAEDF sees in most of the projects that come across their desks.
“But, today, we’re dealing with four projects that are about three times that average size. We’re dealing with size and scale of these projects, in addition to our regular pipeline,” Saucedo-Herrera said. “It’s a great time to be in the economic development world right now. And in San Antonio.”
One of those oversize projects is the Amazon HQ2 “crowd-sourced” RFP, an unprecedented, public call for bids to host a second Amazon headquarters in North America. It would bring 50,000 jobs and billions of dollars to the lucky bidder. Many are calling it the project of the century.
“This project will be game-changing for any community where they elect to locate,” Saucedo-Herrera. “Whoever wins this deal, it will be based off of creativity and the ability to build out the quality of place so that Amazon can make the community their own.”
In that way, San Antonio is well-poised. “We have a blank slate for a company to basically have the opportunity to transform the city – to be a part of everything we have going right now, in conversations about connectivity, whether it’s airlines or mass transit,” Saucedo-Herrera said. “Employees that work for companies like Amazon want to be a part of that – not only in the narrative but making that impact, making a difference. Amazon would love to transform a community, and San Antonio is ripe for that.”
The Amazon HQ2 deal is so important, most city and state officials would do whatever it takes to win the deal, and San Antonio is no different. As she leads a team to develop a proposal, Saucedo-Herrera said it’s possible San Antonio will even “crowd-source” a response to the RFP, with “more minds contributing” to the end product.
Some have proposed that San Antonio and Austin work together as a region. After all, that many jobs will come from within the region, even the state, not just one city. “A partnership is definitely worth considering,” Saucedo-Herrera said.
In recent years, the economic development sphere has changed dramatically, she added. “That’s why we at the SAEDF have evolved … and [Amazon HQ2] is expediting the evolution of the economic development delivery system across the board.”
Four years ago, the SAEDF expanded its role beyond the original vision as a recruiting effort to include retention and expansion, entrepreneurial development, and workforce development.
Currently, four full-time SAEDF employees are solely focused on workforce development as SA Works, an integration that happened a year ago and also precipitated the need for more office space.
“Being integrated in to the SAEDF has been a pivotal move,” said Romanita Matta, director of SA Works. For businesses looking to open shop in San Antonio, then expand and stay here, the strategies of SA Works provides some assurances. “Often, the issues all point back to workforce,” she said, and having a workforce pipeline established now so a company can stay and grow.
Over the summer, 750 local high school juniors and seniors worked in paid summer internships; another 216 teachers were matched to internships, and, last year, 3,000 students participated in job shadowing. Those programs help create that workforce pipeline, Matta said, and allow the business community, area universities and training programs a way to connect and engage in the process. SA Works has a goal of 20,000 work-based experiences by 2020.
“I think the big thing is that San Antonio has a lot to offer,” said SA Works Board Co-Chair Kate Rogers, executive vice president of the Holdsworth Center.
“When we think about trying to attract partnerships … we’ve got great affordable housing, a great local culture. It’s really growing in a robust way, [we have] a revitalized downtown, there’s lots of attractive factors. If we can demonstrate we are also ready and willing to help build robust pipelines for our workforce, San Antonio could be very competitive across the country even with some markets that are more well-known in terms of the big packages they offer to companies.”