Eighth in a Series: A Rising Southside

We continue our series examining the economic, educational and cultural growth on San Antonio’s Southside today with a view from the president of the South San Antonio Chamber of Commerce. Links to all stories in this series can be found at the end of this post, including the series opener: “It’s The Decade of Downtown, But Don’t Miss San Antonio’s Rising Southside.

Tom Shaw

I am, by any measure, a new guy on the Southside. I moved to San Antonio in 2002 and have been with the South Chamber of Commerce for about a year and a half. I think it’s helpful to share the new guy perspective from time to time, so as a part of the Southside series on the Rivard Report, I offer just that.

Think back to a friend’s house from your childhood – it seemed that his/her mom always had a batch of just-baked cookies in the kitchen.  That was the way it smelled when you walked into that house from outside. Or apple pie. Or tamales. Or cinnamon. You got that first whiff and it made an impression. After only a few seconds, the aroma faded to the background and was not nearly as noticeable.

Well I just walked in and I’m telling y’all that the Southside smells good.

Let me share some new-guy nuggets before the aroma fades.

Big Box stores do their homework and locate where long-term growth is coming. Taking a drive down I-37 from downtown and exiting west on SE Military Drive is instructive.  Do that and swivel your head left and right while you drive a couple of miles.  You will see a Lowe’s within two miles of a Home Depot. You will see a Best Buy and an Office Depot next door to each other and both within a half mile of a Target and a Wal-Mart.

A smattering of chain stores on the Southside. Courtesy photos.
An assortment of chain stores on the Southside. Courtesy photos.

Here is something subtle I have noticed: There is some reluctance and hesitation to believe in success among the folks who have lived here for generations.

If you grew up on the Southside and you are finally seeing the proverbial ship coming in, you might be inclined to think it isn’t real or sustainable.  When that happens – just look at the big box stores and allow yourself to accept that it is both real and sustained. Like I said, these guys do their homework.

Now, visualize, accept, embrace, engage and demand – five steps to sustainable growth.

My Mom grew up in Tucson Arizona in the late 1920s and 1930s.  Tucson was a small southwestern town living in the shadow of Phoenix, or “dumolphoenix” as mom called it.  Tucson was a city of hard-working people who were going through some hard times but it was also a relaxing and pleasant place to live with comparatively few stressors.

On December 7, 1941, that changed forever.  After Pearl Harbor and our entry into World War II, Tucson exploded with growth and activity when the U.S. Air Force built huge airfields throughout the area to train new pilots.

Hearing my mom talk about the production and progress during the war effort there reinforced for me that the folks who are able to 1) visualize what is happening and what is going to happen, are 2) able to accept and come to terms with it, and 3) are able to embrace the new reality, are the ones who are going to prosper.

Tucson, Arizona, with the Santa Catalina Mountains in the background. Public domain photo.
Tucson, Arizona – the Santa Catalina Mountains just beyond. Public domain photo.

The Eagle Ford Shale boom is here.  It is real and it will be a long-term economic engine for us.

For those who have had the experience of driving with 18 wheelers on roads that suddenly seem much more narrow than they used to, there might be a tug at the heartstrings – a wish that we could go back to a simpler time – a mere two years ago, before the boom.  But there is no going back, only mitigation. 

So, what can we do about all of the issues that come with the oil and natural gas boom?  How do we ensure that the companies that are doing the fracking are also taking care of the ecosystem in the process?  How do we make sure that our roads are beefed up and made safe for the pounding of the 18 wheelers?  How do we make sure that the people that get hired for these jobs are local people and not imported specialists from other parts of the country or even outsourced internationally?

Eagle Ford Shale EIA MAP

The answers to these questions lie in the “engage and demand” steps.

Engage with those who are bringing the new reality to us.  Extend a friendly hand and a warm handshake.  They may be from other parts but they are bringing good things to us and they are our future friends and neighbors.  But make sure your handshake is firm and resolute.  Demand the things that we need to manage this growth.  Work hard to become informed on all of the issues.  Communicate with your lawmakers and through the power of your community organizations.

Demand the things that we need to gracefully navigate this boom.  Demand a good-well crafted follow-on plan.  We want to be Pittsburgh – not Detroit.  Adopt an owner’s eye toward your surroundings and your neighborhood.  They need to come along with the boom – not get run over by it.  Demand the funding and the emphasis on education that will allow us to fill these jobs with our very own people.

And when you need a short break from visualizing, accepting, embracing, engaging and demanding, take a moment to feel how the Southside is flying.

Take it from a new guy.

Tom Shaw is the president of the South San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.  He grew up in Mexico, Central America and northern Virginia.  He earned his B.A. from the Virginia Military Institute and his M.S. from Troy State University.  Tom served as a Marine Corps officer and naval aviator for 20 years followed by a decade managing law firms in San Diego and San Antonio prior to joining the South Chamber team in December.  Tom and his wife, Pam, have four grown children and two grandchildren.

Related Stories:

Toyota: Engine of Change on San Antonio’s Southside

Brooks City-Base: Where History Greets the Future

A Boyhood Remembered, a World Heritage Site Anticipated

The Missions: Our Southside Spiritual and Cultural Anchors

The Mission Reach: Bringing Life and Pride Back to the Southside

It’s the Decade of Downtown, But Don’t Miss San Antonio’s Rising Southside

Rain Date: Historic San Antonio River Mission Reach Party on Oct. 5

Toyota Investing in Tomorrow’s Southside Role Models

One of the Last Inner City Trailer Parks Going Condo

San Antonio Report Staff

This article was assembled by various members of the San Antonio Report staff.