Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff painted a bright future during his State of the County speech on Tuesday (which also happened to be his 75th birthday), but not without noting the major projects already underway and challenges that lie ahead.
The future holds technology advances and all the economic advantages that come with it. In order for the County to embrace and sustain the growing technology sector, some things need to change, he said. Stronger pathways for students interested in STEM education, company support of talent and workforce development, and an established urban lifestyle will be keys to unlocking San Antonio’s tech industry.
San Antonio is on its way, Judge Wolff said, but we need only to “look up I-35 to Austin to see we are not competing with the emerging tech economy.”
Judge Wolff congratulated the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce for its San Antonio Works program, an initiative that aims to place 20,000 people in local internships by 2020. San Antonio Works encourages the implementation of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in Bexar County schools, and last week laid out a plan for all school districts to provide computer science courses for students interested in programming and cybersecurity.
“The county has 123 paid and unpaid internships and we need to do more,” he said.
Judge Wolff and Mayor Ivy Taylor will soon meet with other public entities to encourage them to hire interns.
Much like San Antonio Works, the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and Alamo Colleges have established San Antonio – Talent for Economic Competitiveness (SA-TEC), a new workforce delivery system for the healthcare and biosciences, information technology, and advanced manufacturing sectors.
Bexar County recently contributed $100,000 for the salary of an SA-TEC director.
“Every business, big or small, needs to become involved with creating a talented workforce through SA Works and SA-TEC,” Judge Wolff said.
But as San Antonio hones in on its talent workforce, it must create jobs for those talented people. Judge Wolff mentioned Tech Bloc and its effort to build and grow companies in San Antonio. Bexar County and Tech Bloc will launch the Techovate Battle on Nov. 3, a competition between technology companies for a County-funded $50,000 economic development grant.
The young, talented people trained to fill the technology-driven jobs will want to live in an exciting urban environment, Wolff said. “We are competing (on that front, too), but we’re behind.”
About 5,000 housing units have been built are under construction in the inner city, he said. Dense, multifamily developments have sprouted up in all directions near downtown and more are expected, drawing more retail, restaurant, and businesses with them.
Wolff sees the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project, which will run through downtown San Antonio and the City’s near-Westside, as a catalytic project for the area.
Bexar County has contributed $125 million to the project and it’s expected to be complete by 2018, San Antonio’s 300th anniversary. The heavily channelized, neglected, and at times buried creek already has a major development on its central banks, the Weston Urban Frost Bank office tower.
Wolff said the San Pedro Creek plans, which include an amphitheater, outside eating areas, natural areas, and art installations, will add color to the area.
“It’s going to be different than the River Walk and the Mission Reach of the River,” he said. “It will tell a story of our culture and history.”
*Top image: Judge Nelson Wolff speaks with attendees including Councilmember Roberto Treviño (D4) after his speech. Photo by Joan Vinson.