Private Internet Access show off their secure & private web browsing products with strange mascots during the 2016 International Consumer Electronics Show. Photo by Ben Tovar.
Private Internet Access show off their secure & private web browsing products with strange mascots during the 2016 International Consumer Electronics Show. Photo by Ben Tovar.

I’m sitting at the Wynn Las Vegas, an iconic luxury hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, trying to make sense of the madness that has ensued over the last 12 hours. Wednesday was Day 1 at the largest technology trade show in the world: CES 2016, the International Consumer Electronics Show, which drew a record 175,000 people last year. Just to put that into perspective, if the trade show were a city, it would be the 135th largest in the nation.

Unlike other niche-oriented shows that exist all over the world, CES has something for everyone and that means you don’t need to be in the tech business to be here. In fact, you have to be here if you want to gain access to the world of tech giants alongside anonymous startups, people introducing what they think is The Next Big Thing, app developers pitching ideas, or entrepreneurs looking for investment capital. Everybody is under one giant roof, more accessible than at any other place or time of the year. And everyone is focused on the $287 billion dollar pie that is the projected revenue of the technology industry in 2016.

ZTE, a maker of Android handsets, showcases two new phones during the International Consumer Electronic Show (CES). Photo by Ben Tovar.
ZTE, a maker of Android handsets, showcases two new phones during the 2016 International Consumer Electronic Show (CES). Photo by Ben Tovar.

San Antonio would do well to have a strong presence here at CES if it truly wants to redefine economic development in the 21st century. That raises a timely question: Days after the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation unrolled its five-year strategic plan, how many of the  thousands of companies and startups here will EDF officials reach to make their pitch?

The City of San Antonio’s Economic Development’s website, I noticed, markets its place on some impressive 2015 lists:

  • Forbes’ Top 10 list of Fastest Growing Cities
  • Milken Institute’s Top 10 for Job Growth
  • Milken Institute’s Top 10 for Best Performing Cities
  • And #1 for Millennial Population Growth

When I think of fastest-growing or best-performing cities, job and population growth, one word comes to mind: Technology. After all, technology and its application is a major driving force in any city’s economy. As a San Antonio native and owner of a tech consulting startup, I’ve watched my city’s economy grow and made my own modest contribution to that growth, most of which has occurred through diversification. We’re no longer just Military City USA or all about tourism and conventions. We’ve learned to adapt: energy production and distribution, medical and health care services, and even cloud computing and cybersecurity are part of our evolving identity.

That’s the good news. The bad news is we are not doing enough, not evolving fast enough, to keep up with leading edge cities. We need to be more opportunistic, more competitive. The annual CES event in Las Vegas is the kind of place we need to be, making contacts, telling our story, recruiting people who want to be recruited.

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Something called the Cybersecurity Forum premiered at this year’s show. The Wednesday event connected “security experts and technology visionaries with executives and policymakers to tackle current and looming cyber security challenges.” Speakers and moderators included Jeffrey Greene of Symantec and Tom Kellermann of Trend Micro, both makers of antivirus and software security solutions. Other notable speakers included Suzanne E. Spaulding, undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; Michael Stawasz, deputy chief for Computer Crime at the U.S. Department of Justice; and Josephine Wolff, assistant professor of Public Policy & Computer Security at Rochester Institute of Technology.

The host of the show, CyberVista, a cybersecurity training and workforce development company, aims to tackle the problem of cyber security ignorance that plagues much of the C-level and board member executives across Fortune 1000 companies. A regular at the show, the Cyber and Personal Security Marketplace, is a sprawling exhibit area featuring up-and-coming products, services and companies. This year’s marketplace includes innovations ranging from smart wallets and safe payment apps to secure messaging and private Internet access. Rep. Will Hurd (R-San Antonio) is attending, but how many of his peer officeholders in the city and region even understand what a unique and captive gathering of talent and innovation is out here right now?

The health care and medical industry is well represented, too. The Health & Wellness Marketplace showcases various innovative solutions and advancements in healthcare technology. The Digital Health Summit conference track offers an exclusive glimpse into advancements in genomics, diagnostics, wearables, telehealth, etc. The mobile health care market is expected to grow to $26 billion by 2017. That, along with one of the topic titles, “Super genes: Two of the world’s renowned healthcare experts join forces to share significant scientific genetic discoveries,” make this track a must see.

As San Antonio’s institution of higher education grow in size and ambition, the CES Education & Technology Marketplace is a window into innovation in learning and teaching. The  TransformingEDU conference track is all about the people working to reshape advanced learning.

San Antonio isn’t on anybody’s list of top tech cities in the country, but that doesn’t mean it can’t compete. The city has many assets, and one of them is that everyone who visits my hometown goes away saying nice things about their experience here. We can’t wait for everyone to visit San Antonio and decide the city is worth a try. Better to travel to where the smart and talented young innovators already are gathered, and make our case where people have gathered to listen, touch, talk, and learn. CES is all about opportunity and how new technologies unlock that opportunity. Behind every innovation is a team of innovative people. If San Antonio is looking for those people, they are right here, right now.

As I left my downtown San Antonio office, heading for the show, I grabbed a bunch of printed copies of a Rivard Report article titled “San Antonio Under Construction, Project by Project” by Geekdom Director Lorenzo Gomez. It’s my intent to put this article in the hands of as many key people as possible, being the evangelist that I am. A line at the end of that article came to mind while writing this one, “…see what the San Antonio of tomorrow will look like today.” At CES, it’s very much about seeing tomorrow’s innovative technology today, and getting a glimpse of the future and the people who are building it.

*Top image: Private Internet Access show off their secure and private web browsing products with strange mascots during the 2016 International Consumer Electronics Show.  Photo by Ben Tovar.

Related Stories:

 Five-Year Plan Aimed at growing More Jobs, Startups

San Antonio in the Internet Century: Time to Step it Up

Hernandez Helped Build a Bigger, Better San Antonio

City Sharpens Focus on Smart Job Growth

SA Economic Development Foundation Hires New VP

SA Chamber Takes Lead on Growing Cybersecurity Sector

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Ben Tovar

Ben Tovar is a native San Antonian and president of Neowave Technologies LLC, a local company that provides computer support and services to business and residential customers.