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

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Fist graphic/logo courtesy of TechBloc.

Graphic/logo courtesy of TechBloc.

New Talents for New Jobs

Building a robust San Antonio economy in the coming decades requires that we compete for the talent that will drive it. Increasingly this means technical, engineering and entrepreneurial talent. Not only are these people building the companies of tomorrow, they are the most in demand inside existing companies. Yes, Google and Techstars startups need programmers and engineers, but so do USAA, Frost Bank and NuStar. Today’s industries and companies need technical workers and they will go wherever they need to get the talent to compete.

Losing the War

Where will San Antonio be left in this world? Right now it is hard to tell. The city missed out on Google Fiber and chased Uber out of town, so the idea of attracting the talent necessary to drive our future looks bleak. Cities like New Orleans, Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Oklahoma City are aggressively working to win over critical talent…and they are succeeding. San Antonio currently ranks 48th of the 51 largest metropolitan areas in the country for the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds with a four-year college degree. And the truth is a 1% increase in this demographic drives a 2.3% increase in GDP – so we are missing a huge opportunity. And if we lose more battles in this talent war we could face an economic crisis in the future.

“Retain Smart People and Get Out of Their Way”

We need to focus on making SA a place where our educated young stay to build their lives – and work to attract those being crowded (and priced!) out of bigger metro areas. As Harvard economist Edward Glaeser said in an interview for The New York Times, “The most successful economic development policy is to attract and retain smart people and then get out of their way.”

We Have to Up Our Game

San Antonio has a chance to lead in several emerging high growth industries, including Internet infrastructure, cybersecurity, and biotech, and be a strong player in the Internet software and services space. The only limitation to our potential is access to talent. We have to up our game – and do it fast. We urge the City Council and the next mayor to make this their number one priority.

An Organized Force for Change

Fist graphic/logo courtesy of TechBloc.

All of us are committed to helping San Antonio achieve its full potential, so we have come together as an organized force to help drive San Antonio in the right direction. We are Tech Bloc, a group of tech entrepreneurs, employees, investors, and allies committed to bettering the tech community and economy in San Antonio. We will engage our city leadership and hold them accountable for getting San Antonio on track. We will be hands-dirty participants in spurring change and progress. We will foster more collaboration among the people driving our economy today. Finally, we will invest our time and money in the tech economy of our city.

Click here to see a full list of founding Tech Bloc members.

A Call to City Leaders to Respond

While we plan to share more specific proposals and organizational tenets, the following basic beliefs are the core of our view for San Antonio’s future. We are eager to hear our city leaders address these points and respond with a focused plan for San Antonio to make real progress.

  1. It starts with vibrant urban cores. The educated young have made it clear, in surveys and by voting with their feet, that they will not move to or remain in cities that don’t have vibrant urban areas. Notice areas — plural. While downtown should remain a strong focus, there are other areas where deliberate planning could drive increased livability (e.g. the Medical Center and UTSA). Developing legitimate urban zones requires bold and focused planning. Put bluntly, we fear that never-ending annexation and suburbanization will keep San Antonio from achieving the urban density necessary to attract talent, foster ideas and capital, and compete vigorously in the Internet century.
  1. We need to build a Central Texas Super Region. Austin’s boom is a great thing for San Antonio and we should proactively seek to collaborate. It is okay for Austin to be Seattle. We can be Portland, the up and coming, more livable alternative. And, honestly, we are not competing with Austin. Austin is over the hump. We are competing with dozens of emerging cities that are moving rapidly and aggressively to get there – Oklahoma City, Kansas City, Nashville, Cincinnati, New Orleans, and many, many more. We should use the critical mass of the Austin-SA corridor to make the case for Central Texas as the next great place to move post-college.
  1. We need to build on our strengths. SA has compelling advantages and we should build on them to promote the city’s unique appeal. While we compete with other cities, we will win by showcasing our differences — our historical legacy and cultural heritage are core strengths to build upon.   By embracing and expanding the authentic elements of our city we can tell a story that is instantly understood and that focuses our priorities as we progress. A strategy built around being the “historic city” would lead to more incentives for restorations, preferences for local businesses and entrepreneurs and show SA as possessing an authenticity hard to find in larger cities like Phoenix or Dallas.
  1. Small wins lead to big things. Too often the city has tried to skip steps and cheat time by seeking big, major wins. Good intentions are behind the pursuit of an NFL team and the Tesla battery factory, but we should build from where we are. Let’s generate a string of victories and wins that brings progress and excitement in the city. Whether it is winning Google Fiber, creating a world class, city-wide trail system, or encouraging several small but growing tech companies to build here, a set of smaller, achievable wins will add up rapidly and have a huge impact over time.

Must Haves

Rideshare advocates stand in support of Lyft and Uber during a City Council meeting that resulted in approval of strict rideshare regulation. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Iris Dimmick / Rivard Report

Rideshare advocates stand in support of Lyft and Uber during a City Council meeting that ultimately resulted in approval of strict rideshare regulations. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

There are certain things that simply must happen to get us moving and increase our appeal to the talent and companies driving the tech economy. We must find a way to get Uber and Lyft back. We must spark new ambition and investment for our park, bike and walking systems. We must focus economic development on high-growth emergent companies and industries. We must build a transportation system that connects our urban cores. We must level the economic playing field of historic restoration versus low-cost greenfield expansion. We must organize our established and emerging education assets to build modern talent at a faster pace. We must reposition our city as a place to live and thrive, not just to visit.

In the Race, But Falling Behind

San Antonio is at a critical juncture. Cities will define the next century and the next great cities are emerging. We are in the race, but falling behind. We cannot be just a cheap place to retire. To build a truly dynamic economy — one with net immigration, frequent new company creation, broad innovation and rising economic tides — we must develop the extraordinary resources inherent in our city, not just in our expansive geography. The elements to thrive are in place, but without real conviction, ambition and resources, we will not reach our potential.

Learn More, Join the Movement

Do you agree with us? If so, please join us and other Tech Bloc members at our kickoff event on May 19 at Southerleigh at Pearl. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and let’s build San Antonio together.

And, in the meantime, don’t forget to vote.

 

*Featured/top image: Fist graphic/logo courtesy of Tech Bloc.

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Inside the San Antonio Techstars Experience 

San Antonio, Under Construction: We’re Not Slowing Down

16 thoughts on “San Antonio in the Internet Century: Time to Step It Up

  1. San Antonio needs to stop brain drain and maintain brain gain. I feel that yes we need a strong urban core but more than that we need a city that has a strong focus on education and a recognizable inner city school district that will maintain young professional families in the urban core. My wife and I live in the outskirts of San Antonio because of the great school districts and affordable housing out there. We both drive an hour to work in San Antonio. We would love to move into the inner city but the housing stock that is available is not conducive to a family, i.e. parks, school districts, safety. Yes young single professionals will want a thriving urban core but what happens when they grow up and have a family? Where is the market to maintain families in downtown San Antonio. If San Antonio is capable of maintaining a strong commitment to education and supporting the existing universities, I believe that San Antonio is capable of becoming a Portland. It ends and begins with a city that invests in the future of it’s citizens. We cannot maintain unchecked urban sprawl, a failing inner city school district, and a focus on one sector of career choice. The possibility for an amazing future for San Antonio is there, if only our city leaders can make the right investitures and continue forward momentum.

  2. I was of the understanding rackspace was built in san antonio because of the cheap uneducated labor and cheap property per sqft, Anyone care to guess who owns a bunch of buildings downtown now ? Now they want the city to focus on the area to help there rel estate holdings mature. Maybe Rackspace should focus on it own house. Rackspace is known for some of the cheapest pay in the industry.

    • San Antonio represents a very thin tech market. Coupled with a low cost of living and you only get compensated according to those two factors. Move to another area with a thicker market and compensation increases to meet the higher demand.

      The more tech companies are allowed to start and thrive in San Antonio the more San Antonio will benefit from the general tech market.

    • I would be willing to bet Rackspace has one of the highest average wage levels in the city. And, I am super proud of the opportunities it has created for San Antonians.

      In terms of your accusations that this is self serving, I would just look at the list of folks who are behind these sentiments…https://www.satechbloc.com/founding-members/

  3. I think there’s another factor that is lacking, and it’s not just about attracting outside talent, its about motivating and cultivating the talent that is here, and thinking BIG; running with new ideas and taking a little risk to make them happen. Its being said that its going to take one more big company out of San Antonio to really put us on the map, but that’s not going to happen if no one is willing the take a chance.

    This has been my difficulty as a new tech entrepreneur in San Antonio. It seems like the only interest that we can garner for bleeding edge technology is from Silicon Valley, which only perpetuates the problem here and there.

  4. Well. Hatred aside from some of the above comments. I agree with the article. It is difficult to forward think with backward leaning leadership (plight of Tx in general – check out #txlege for insight into Victorian thinking) I live downtown & am privy to some pivotal progress. The highest rent factor in the city is from Pearl south, so nobody converts these beautiful, historic, architecturally brilliant buildings into affordable ownership housing options for young tech kids or older San Antonio residents (who would love to live here but have no options under 500k). You cannot support any real estate with renters. It takes vested owners who care and maintain a viable interest in life, culture, cleanliness, crime, etc. Commercial owners and residential owners are different tribes in the same nation. Its a beautiful life downtown and biking, walking & navigating the underground world of the river is invigorating. Downtown isn’t just the restaurants, the Majestic, the Aztec, Tobin, etc..It is the city’s history and the blurring of socio-economic layers into a beautiful mosaic of life. Hospitality workers can’t afford to rent here, salaried employees can’t afford to buy here, retail could survive as tourists are starving for it but its not here, kids have no where to be kids, and yet we still coexist. It could be so much better with a little insight from real urban dwellers that interact with entrepreneurs, tourists and locals. We are walking the walk and want others to share it with us. If we don’t elect a mayor that is forward thinking to move this city into the future, we will be left behind. It doesn’t matter if we take in more unincorporated property and move ourselves to the 5th largest city in this country. What matters is if we respect our water resources, our creative minds, our immigrant community (which is a vital part of this city/state) , our LGBT community, our youth, our universities, our legacy to this nation. We have to think big and not crater to bigotry or small mindedness that is harmful to all of us. We are better than that. Bigger isn’t better. Smarter is better.

    • Good point Rebecca. We are blessed to have many strong female tech leaders very involved such as Jill Giles, Magaly Chocano and Cristal Glangchai and others …but we need more. Please get involved yourself…

  5. I stopped reading after it said SA missed out on Google Fiber. That isn’t true and sets the tone for such a misinformed fluff piece.

    • Josh, we certainly have missed out so far. And there has not been much public news since Mayor Castro left office in terms of this being a priority. I am eager to hear an update and am in touch with the Mayor’s office who has reached out. I will update as we learn more. I have no interest in not being 100% truthful.

  6. I applied for jobs at USAA, Frost and NuStar (in addition to Valero, Rackspace, etc) while on my relocation job hunt from Arizona to Texas Feb-March 2015. No one ever responded. I applied to various higher level tech jobs in Austin and received interviews for 6 out of the 8 resume submissions I sent and had my choice with 4 job offers both private and public. The HR firms in SA need to wake up and not turn talent away that seek to come back to their hometown. I love San Antonio but now that I’m in Austin – it will be hard to want to relocate to SA.

    • This speaks so clearly of the problem that San Antonio has simply in its operating culture. There’s little follow-up and hustle in many aspects of San Antonio life. We need to start looking at our big firms and ask why they are doing such a dis-service to the community that made them what they are today.

  7. In terms of seeking qualified talent I think you need to look at Rackspace Open Cloud Academy (an article in the Rivard Report) as an example for finding good talent. This school gives opportunity to individuals within our city looking for a new career in computing later in life. When it comes to a native San Antonio workforce our city has a large pool of people who can make this change due to the cultural demographic of passing the parents home onto their children which means more flexibility when changing careers due to basically free housing. Increased efforts should be made to give more San Antonians access to programs like those that Rackspace offers. Being a native, I am absolutely confident that a substantial amount of individuals are looking for this opportunity, however there are limited avenues to reach it.

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