A year and a half into its efforts to raise millions of dollars for a range of goals, San Antonio’s economic development group has nearly reached the finish line.
Greater:SATX Regional Economic Partnership has raised nearly $38 million in five-year pledges during its “All In” fundraising campaign that began in early 2021. The money represents a stepped-up effort to attract corporations to the region, improve local airport connections and educate and retain talent.
Well over half of the sum came from the private sector, a significant change to the funding model of an organization established in 1975 and previously known as the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation.
“When I joined the organization … about 70% [of our budget] came from public sources, and the remaining 30% from private,” said Jenna Saucedo-Herrera, president and CEO of Greater:SATX. “We’ve actually flipped the ratio.”
Some of San Antonio’s largest employers, including USAA and H-E-B, are among the biggest of the total 200 contributors. The campaign also attracted 80 investors new to supporting the group’s economic development efforts, Saucedo-Herrera said.
A high percentage of those came from real estate brokers, developers, construction firms and architects — part of an industry that is one of the first to gain from the organization’s work, she said. Randy Smith, CEO of the development firm Weston Urban, is chairman of the Greater:SATX executive committee.
The total private sector investment exceeds $3 million a year. But giving from the public sector has not declined.
In August, Bexar County commissioners approved a contribution of $740,000 in 2022 and 2023, almost three times what the county allocated in each of the last two years.
The City of San Antonio supports Greater:SATX through several agreements, including compensating it for functioning as the city’s employment arm. For that, the city pays the organization $300,000 a year to support its Ready to Work program, if Greater:SATX meets certain benchmarks.
Another payment of $635,000 annually by the city also is contingent on the organization meeting its economic development goals, said a spokeswoman.
In addition, Greater:SATX has 13 regional regional partners in eight surrounding counties that contribute $5,000 a year through agreements supporting economic development efforts. These include chambers of commerce, local government institutions and other economic development groups.
The funds will be used to run the organization’s $7.3 million annual budget for corporate recruitment and retention initiatives, job training and education and regional branding, Saucedo-Herrera said.
A pool of money also went toward establishing a new air service development fund which will be used to incentivize airlines to improve passenger connectivity at the San Antonio International Airport.
With a goal to increase nonstop air service, the $3 million fund is a pool of cash that can be paid out to airlines once they are here if guaranteed revenue or booked seat minimums are not met. “If the seats are full, then we might not have to pay out the money,” Saucedo-Herrera said.
So far, there have been no payouts from the fund, she added, but officials are actively engaged in conversations with six or seven airlines.
Greater:SATX also put the funds to use in recruiting new people to its own team. In January, the organization hired Sarah Carabias Rush, formerly the senior vice president for economic development at the Dallas Regional Chamber, as its new chief economic development officer.
At a recent meeting of the City Council’s Economic and Workforce Development Committee, Rush was on hand to show support for a new economic development strategic plan presented by city staffers and a consultant.
“We look forward to walking alongside the city as you all begin to roll out this strategy and we’re happy to be a part of this ongoing conversation and development of the plan,” she said.
Rush added that she believes the next phase of San Antonio’s economic development strategy should be focused on land banking — aggregating parcels of land for future sale or development — and creating a “mega site” to attract major investors.
Greater:SATX is also working on keeping talented homegrown workers in the area through a new initiative, the Alamo Fellows program. Later this month, Greater:SATX is launching its first cohort of Alamo Fellows, a program similar to the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership San Antonio program, but designed for university students majoring in science, technology, engineering and math fields.
“We’re aligning them with employment opportunities, but we’re also facilitating the San Antonio experience so that they become ‘sticky’ to our community,” and choose to start their careers here, Saucedo-Herrera said.