Mike Villarreal. Courtesy photo.
Mike Villarreal. Courtesy photo.

My dad fixed and installed AC units at Lackland Air Force Base, and picked up extra jobs in the evenings and on the weekend. My mom put in equally long hours as a nurse.

They paid for me to go to private Catholic school. They bought my books and my first computer. They even managed to set aside a little money for college.

Mike Villarreal at Central Catholic High School in 1992. Courtesy photo.
Mike Villarreal at Central Catholic High School in 1992. Courtesy photo.

That part of my life story, about my parents’ sacrifices for the sake of my education, is common to a lot of San Antonians around my age – I’m 43.

So is the next part of the story.

Late in the summer before leaving for Texas A&M University, I went out on one last service call with my father. He cut and welded a copper pipe, and I handed him the tools. It was a routine job. But then he turned off his blowtorch and looked at me.

He said he knew I’d succeed at A&M – and then keep on going. In other words, my dad – who had paid for this opportunity with his sweat – expected me to earn a degree and not come home because there weren’t enough jobs here for college graduates. He was resigned to that.

But that’s not the San Antonio our families deserve. I don’t want any college graduate to leave our city or not return home after earning a degree because they feel they can’t get ahead here. Neither do I want an employer who’s operating in San Antonio to struggle to find skilled workers – nor for a company looking to relocate to pass over our city because it lacks a thoroughly prepared workforce.

USAA headquarters in San Antonio. If stood on end, it would be 300 stories tall, three times the height of the Empire State Building. Photo courtesy of USAA.
USAA is San Antonio’s second-largest employer in San Antonio with more than 16,000 employees compared to H-E-B, the top employer, which employs more than 20,000. Photo courtesy of USAA. Credit: Courtesy / USAA

I am running for Mayor to secure opportunity for our children, to ensure that they don’t have to leave their hometown to pursue their dreams. The goal is simple. But achieving it will take a comprehensive plan that I will start to describe to you here and will elaborate on throughout my campaign.

I also want to make clear that the need to act is urgent. We’re currently losing ground on the bright future we want for our families. San Antonio added 37,131 jobs in the two-year period ending Oct. 31, 2014. That’s healthy growth. But it’s far less impressive when you compare that number to job creation in the same period to Austin (57,934), Dallas/Fort Worth (165,366), and Houston (172,635). Similarly, the Metroplex and Houston registered stronger income gains than we did from 2010 through 2012.

Rackspace occupies the former Windsor Park Mall. The company has transformed the dead mall into a modern workplace that includes sectioned off conference rooms, escalators, and is home to the old gondolas from Brackenridge Park. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Some feared Rackspace might leave the city in 2014. Instead it grew in place. Photo by Iris Dimmick

Making San Antonio a city of opportunity means creating conditions that stimulate job creation, more foreign investment and trade, and higher wages.

Here’s how we will accomplish those goals:

  • We’ll take a smarter, more focused approach to corporate recruitment. Of course we’ll compete for the big fish – the Teslas of the world – when they come along. But first and foremost, we have to build on the strengths we already have, including cybersecurity, cloud-computing, health care and biotechnology, the aerospace industry and auto manufacturing.
  • Even more importantly, we’ll forge a real working relationship with employers who are already here. After all, they are the companies most responsible for San Antonio’s job growth. I’m talking about more than an open-door policy; we have to partner with the private sector. We must understand what companies need from city government to help them expand their workforces, and try to anticipate challenges from other cities for their jobs. San Antonio must have a business-friendly government.
  • We’ll create the same kind of partnership with the military, with which we share a long and intimate history. Working with base commanders, the city will not only defend San Antonio’s installations against cuts or closure, but will make the case for expanding their missions and adding civilian jobs. We’ll do that in part by expanding efforts to share costs with the military; for example, we can provide library and landscaping services to the bases, or make bulk supply purchases with the Defense Department to cut expenses. We can also knit our water and transportation infrastructure with that of our bases. In a time of reduced defense spending, these gestures will burnish our credentials as Military City USA and put us on solid footing ahead of the next Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC).
  • Finally, we’ll keep taxes low while ensuring that regulations aren’t burdensome. We’ll maintain our city’s enviable fiscal discipline (and AAA bond rating), and make thought-out investments in infrastructure and the amenities such as linear parks that enhance our quality of life – and make us more attractive to high-skill workers and employers. We’ll be transparent in our dealings with citizens and industry, and delivery of our business services, such as licensing and permits, will be predictable.

Underlying all of these initiatives – and the one thing that will guarantee their success – is a better-prepared workforce. If we do job training right, existing companies will be able to expand easily because they’ll have the skilled workers they need. Out-of-state companies looking to relocate will know that they won’t have to scrounge for workers if they move here.

In an economy that feeds on knowledge and skills, we must double down on our efforts to improve high schools, ensure that our children are ready to excel, reduce the dropout rate, and encourage people of all ages to improve their skills.

We have a model for workforce training to build on. Alamo Academies teach high school kids skills in five industries, including aerospace and advanced manufacturing, health care, cybersecurity, and heavy equipment operation. I want more employers to offer that kind of real-world job experience so we can connect more young San Antonians to meaningful training opportunities in their chosen fields.

Annette Enriquez works on a jet engine. Annette completed her bachelor's degree from Embry-Riddle University, she'll be pursuing her masters with no college debt. Photo courtesy of Alamo Academies.
Annette Enriquez works on a jet engine. Annette completed her bachelor’s degree at Embry-Riddle University, and she’ll be pursuing her masters with no college debt. Photo courtesy of Alamo Academies.

Having a skilled, educated workforce is the lynchpin to my plan for jobs and higher wages. But numerous other factors also influence employers’ hiring decisions – and the decisions made by young, highly skilled professionals to stay in San Antonio or leave. That’s why we must continue to push to revitalize downtown. We’ll double SA2020’s target of 5,000 new inner-city apartment and condo units, and we’ll strive to draw more employers to the urban core and bring retail on Houston Street and the west end back to life. Our downtown will be a magnet for young people hungry for urban living. And they, in turn, will be magnets for employers hungry for their skills.

Making these improvements and reprogramming city government to bring them about will be huge undertakings. But the payoff will exceed the investment by far.

In eight years my daughter Bella, my oldest, will graduate from high school. When she does, my greatest wish is that she knows where she comes from, and that she sees San Antonio as the place to pursue her dreams. I want this for my youngest, Marcos, too. I want this for all of our children and for future generations to come. Please join me in making this wish a reality.

It’s time to take action.

*Featured/top image: Mike Villarreal. Courtesy photo.

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Mike Villarreal

Mike Villarreal is a former state representative and founding director of the Institute on Urban Education at the University of Texas at San Antonio.