Bexar County Approves Economic Policy to Attract, Bolster Tech Talent

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WP Engine employee Eric Rosenberg works at his standing desk in the Geekdom office. Photo by Scott Ball.

WP Engine employee Eric Rosenberg works at his standing desk in the Geekdom office. Photo by Scott Ball.

After a unanimous vote from commissioners on Tuesday morning, Bexar County has a new economic development policy aimed at recruiting innovative tech startups and funding for local companies. The policy outlines how the $1 million Innovation Fund, developed by the County last August, will be spent. The investment will pay for itself by bringing brainpower and better jobs to the area, Bexar County officials said.

The new policy will address four focus areas: the recruitment of new companies, expansion of local companies, talent competitions, and talent development through education and media branding.

“This is very new to us,” said David Marquez, executive director of economic development for Bexar County. The new policy will not replace the old incentive model used for traditional businesses, but will instead provide a parallel methodology for businesses within the technological ecosystem.

David Marquez, executive director of economic development for Bexar County, explains the county's new policy. Photo by Lea Thompson.

David Marquez, executive director of economic development for Bexar County, explains the county’s new policy. Photo by Lea Thompson.

The Innovation Fund will use $50,000 to support the current Tech Fuel startup competition that the County is putting on in collaboration with Tech Bloc and up to $105,000 for other competition opportunities this year.

The County has also earmarked additional but separate funds to invest in existing programs like the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce‘s SA Works and Cybersecurity SA. County officials will be looking to industry leaders to define the training needed for new employees and working with private and public educational institutions to reach those students.

“There are a lot of people who are completely new to this (industry),” said Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4), but they will be looking to bootcamps like Codeup or The Iron Yard to train employees that can fill these high-paying tech jobs. As the price of living and production increases for tech companies in Austin and San Francisco, companies and employees are looking for new cities to expand their business.

“I think a lot of people are getting priced out of the Austin market and they’re looking to San Antonio as the next place to be,” said Jordana Decamps, deputy director of Economic Development for Bexar County. “We have a lot of interest from different companies who also want to relocate here. ”

The tech culture itself in San Antonio is more welcoming and approachable compared to other cities, Decamps said. “Here, you can speak to (Geekdom Director) Lorenzo Gomez, (Codeup founder) Michael Girdley or (Rackspace co-founder) Graham Weston, whereas in Austin, that might be much more difficult.”

Under the new policy, companies that move their business headquarters to Bexar County for at least 36 months and earn a minimum $1 million each year, are eligible for various business grants and financial incentives. The policy also requires that 70% of all company employees earn tech industry standard salaries or, at minimum, a living wage.

Techstars Program Manager Kara Gomez (back), Geekdom Director Lorenzo Gomez, and Cybersecurity SA Director Will Garrett listen to Bexar County Commissioners discuss the Innovation Fund. Photo by Lea Thompson.

Techstars Program Manager Kara Gomez (back), Geekdom Director Lorenzo Gomez, and Cybersecurity SA Director Will Garrett listen to Bexar County Commissioners discuss the Innovation Fund. Photo by Lea Thompson.

Local tech leaders like Geekdom’s Gomez, Techstars Cloud Program Manager Kara Gomez (who are married), and Cybersecurity SA Director Will Garrett, who leads the SA Chamber’s industry-focused program, were in the crowd to show support for the new policy.

The tech ecosystem is very collaborative, Kara said after the commissioner’s vote of approval.

“We’re growing through different boards, different initiatives, but there’s a lot of the same faces because we’re all working together,” she said. “Competition is a very good thing, it makes us better and provides opportunity for different entrepreneurs.”

Financial investments from downtown co-working spaces like Geekdom and San Antonio Entrepreneurial Center have already helped to drive the revitalization of San Antonio’s urban core. The County’s new incentives are expected to attract new mentors and talent, but also new cultural destinations.

“Those are the things that make people want to stay here the more these companies want to come to San Antonio and stay here,” Kara added.

The City’s Economic Development Department could take a page out the County’s Innovation Fund playbook, said the department’s director Rene Dominguez.

The City has already invested in tech communities and programs “like the Open Cloud Academy, but is looking to widen and expand on this model at the City level,” he said.

   

*Top Image: WP Engine employee Eric Rosenberg works at his standing desk in the Geekdom office.  Photo by Scott Ball. 

 

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