Before the end of January, City Council will consider an ambitious five-year strategic plan designed to build on San Antonio’s economic development successes, and better focus the city on issues such as business attraction and retention.
The Council’s Economic and Human Development Committee met Tuesday to review the strategic plan, initiated by the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation (EDF), and an implementation plan agreement. It’s been in the works since 2013 when consulting firm Deloitte produced a job-creation report for the foundation that had more than 160 recommendations.
According to its mission statement, the strategic plan will maximize the city’s existing assets and potential to spark more innovation and competitiveness in the targeted industries of transportation manufacturing, healthcare and biosciences, information technology, cybersecurity, and energy. A coordinating council, made up of 16 organization stakeholders, would govern the plan.
“We’re trying to improve what is already a successful economic development delivery system,” said EDF President Mario Hernandez. As a result of an EDF action plan implemented in 2011, the City exceeded goals for total number of jobs created (19,733), high-wage jobs created (6,832) and payroll related to new or expanded businesses ($779 million) over the last five years.
Overarching goals for the foundation and the City for the next five years include the formation of a comprehensive, integrated strategic plan based on the SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis conducted by Deloitte.
Hernandez, however, won’t be around for the next plan to come to fruition, at least not as EDF president, as he retires in June 2016 after a total of 32 years at the foundation.
(Read more: Hernandez Helped Build a Bigger, Better San Antonio)
A second goal is to involve a greater number of stakeholders in planning and implementation phases of the strategic plan like local economic development organizations, the private sector, and groups that affect economic development. A third goal is to create a framework that enhances coordination, communication and collaboration of the economic development delivery system.
“The whole theme of this has been collaboration, getting everyone on the same page, which is what every community strives toward,” Hernandez said.
According to the strategic plan, all stakeholders must improve ways of attracting new businesses, retaining and expanding those ventures, developing entrepreneurs, enhancing the workforce, and expanding collaboration.
The plan briefly outlines a few tactics and strategies in each of these areas of emphasis. For example, more promotion connections, showcase events, marketing missions, lead generation, and targeted domestic and international pursuit can help to lure businesses to San Antonio.
In one such instance, through a collaboration between its Economic Development Department and Tech Bloc, the City is gearing up to have an official presence at Austin’s annual South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW) conference in March. The City’s Economic Development Director Rene Dominguez told a reporter the City will unveil more details about its participation at SXSW in the coming weeks.
Over the past year, City officials have said SXSW would be an ideal place for San Antonio to formally showcase its economic brand to tens of thousands visitors from across the world and prove that the city is perfect for new business and talent.
The strategic plan lays out an objective: Raise the employment rate in the local targeted industries at a rate 5% higher than that projected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Texas Workforce Commission over the next five years.
In another realm, visitation, early detection, rapid response and expert mobilization are all key to business retention and expansion. As for growing San Antonio’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, cultivation, fund development, discovery and nurturing all are important. The mission here is to raise the rate of new entrepreneurs and startup density, startup ventures per 100,000 residents, at a rate 5% higher than current projections.
Hernandez acknowledged San Antonio has done well recruiting new business, but has room to improve to cultivate its own reliable, stable circle of entrepreneurs. He said the local public and private sectors can help to influence the rate of startups by educating aspiring entrepreneurs about what it takes to grow a new business from the ground up.
Hernandez and committee members pointed to how important organizations such as Cafe Commerce and LiftFund are to startups and small businesses. Nadia Auch, Cafe Commerce’s new president, was among those in attendance at Tuesday’s committee meeting. Auch succeeded Peter French who stepped down a few months ago to concentrate on family and other ventures.
“I’m really excited about the momentum we have going forward,” Auch told the committee, adding that the small business resource center appreciates the City’s role in helping to generate a more robust entrepreneurial ecosystem.
The workforce objective involves raising the number of educational partnerships, and increasing by 5% the amount of degrees and finished certificate programs related to the targeted industries. Additionally, the EDF and the City want to improve collaboration through even better measurements and benchmarks, accountability and coordinated service delivery.
Council members on the committee liked what they saw in the strategic plan, for the most part. But Councilman Ray Lopez (D6) said he wants to see the plan to help counter a perception that many business observers have about San Antonio.
“These results, it’s important to share them with prospective businesses because there’s still an impression that San Antonio looks attractive with some low-wage jobs and that they require low skills,” he said. “Don’t assume low wages mean low skilled.”
Hernandez agreed, noting that the City can show how new jobs, specifically high-wage positions, translate into the number of cars and homes sold, among other economic impacts.
Council will review the strategic plan and implementation agreement during its B Session meeting on Jan. 20, and again during A Session on Jan. 28 for final approval.
*Top image: Hallmark University is a nonprofit college in San Antonio offering degrees in aviation maintenance, information technology, cybersecurity, business, nursing and medical assisting, Courtesy photo.