Michael Girdley NEW 2013
Credit: Courtesy

Every city government loves to trumpet that good times are ahead and San Antonio is no exception. Having lived here most of my life – I’ve heard the rhetoric, but it wasn’t always clear that our city was truly on an upward trend. Now, it seems to me that the stars are aligning in favor of our fair city.

Why? A number of macro and micro trends are aligning all to our city’s benefit:

Eagle Ford Shale Play

We’ve all read the numbers, but they only hit me when I saw on Craigslist what a young woman had posted: “Needed, one bedroom apartment for rent. $1,600 or less.

$1,600? In San Antonio? For a recent grad?  That’s enormous. What was cool is she said she wanted it near her job on the Southside at I-37 and Loop 1604. A majority of jobs that far south are (a) farmer and (b) at one of the new oil company offices. I’m guessing she was in the oil company category.

Mexican National Immigration

Much is said about the “Sonterey” effect where wealthy Mexicans are fleeing inhospitable family environments in Mexico and taking root in the Sonterra/Stone Oak area on the north side of San Antonio. This is a huge shift from the Mexican migration of decades earlier where immigrants were mostly the poor and uneducated. Now, we see the educated and wealthy moving here. These folks are bringing an entirely different feel to the city. At the Whole Foods at Loop 1604 and Blanco Road last week, I was the only person out of a queue of four to order in English and the only one not to drive away in a Mercedes-Benz or BMW.

Internal (Southerly+Easterly) Migration

The intra-USA migration towards the South from the Rust Belt has been going on for decades. What’s relatively new are the California/Arizona escapees migrating East. One particular friend of mine picked San Antonio as a place to expand her business from Arizona. Her whole family is here now.

Noble Cause Philanthropy

San Antonio’s most recent crop of philanthropists don’t care to have their names on buildings like earlier generations. Instead, they’re interested in investing in “places” like The Pearl or Geekdom where communities of like-minded, energetic people develop and flourish.  They get that people and relationships, not buildings, are what makes a meaningful community.

A new city tourism website is unveiled at Geekdom, a collaborative technological workspace. Photo by Iris Dimmick
A new city tourism website is unveiled at Geekdom, a collaborative technological workspace. Photo by Iris Dimmick

Military 

Nothing special in this category except for the fact little has changed. Physical war is as old as man. What’s new are the cyber wars. The most recent publication of APTs (Advanced Persistent Threat) groups operating out of China and elsewhere means continued heavy investment in cyber security. It doesn’t hurt that San Antonio is the home for much of the military (and NSA’s) cyber security work as well as the central training place for many military healthcare workers at Fort Sam Houston.

Health Care

Similarly, nothing has changed on national policy on healthcare in America. Our national healthcare system is still a ‘ginormous’ mess. That’s good for San Antonio. Where the healthcare system is inefficient, there’s opportunity for companies large and small to exploit those gaps and profit. The medical sector centered around the South Texas Medical Center will only grow as an economic driver.

Tourism

As we know, traveling by plane is getting more difficult due to security concerns and more expensive due to rising fuel costs. What better choice for a destination than one clearly outside of the firing line of terrorism and in driving distance?  If you are going by plane, what better city to visit than one with a small but accessible airport?

A street vendor pulls his cart of ... unrelated merchandise infront of the Alamo before the 2013 Battle of the Flowers Parade. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
More than 2.5 million people visit the Alamo Mission per year. Photo by Iris Dimmick from the 2013 Battle of the Flowers Parade.

Tech + Austin

Austin’s gain is San Antonio’s gain. As Austin establishes itself as the nation’s #4 tech hub (#1 SF Bay, #2 Boston, then tied #3 New York City & Austin) in the US, that’s only going to help San Antonio due to our proximity to our “Weird” neighbors 70 miles away.

Things are happening in San Antonio. Besides Rackspace, dozens of IT companies are springing out of Geekdom at a torrid pace, TrueAbility and Par Level Systems being two of the most promising.

What’s missing?

The biggest missing part of the puzzle is a top-tier educational and research institution. Something on par with those in Boston, San Francisco and Austin that will attract the most special people from around the world. UTSA is trying hard, but it has a systemic problem in that UT-Austin will always be the big brother and thus get to pick projects and people first. But, times are changing for the Stanfords, MITs and UTs of the world. The extreme cost of college combined with the potential disruption of online education means San Antonio’s lack of a large premier educational institution might not matter as much any more — and prove the leaders who decades years ago hitched San Antonio’s wagon to tourism and the military were very prescient.

Even so, San Antonio is riding trends that are hugely in our collective favor. Cities like Cleveland or Las Vegas would kill for a list that included one or two of these things.  There’s much to get psyched about and I’m glad to be part of the ride.

Michael Girdley, www.girdley.com, is an entrepreneur, real estate investor, budding start-up investor, reformed programmer and author, believer in San Antonio’s startup ecosystem and part-time Crossfit instructor. He can be reached at Michael@girdley.com.

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Michael Girdley

Michael Girdley is co-founder of Codeup (a company offering bootcamps to get people into 21st century careers), a managing director of the Geekdom Fund (San Antonio’s first venture capital fund investing...