Beatrice Briseno opened her residential real estate franchise where she grew up on the South Side 20 years ago and now oversees 15 agents, including her daughters. Re/Max Unlimited is the only such franchise in the area and operates from a building that was once an old grocery store.

In May, she hopes to move into a more spacious and modern office building under construction less than a mile away, a project made possible through the money she saved last year on City and San Antonio Water System (SAWS) fees.

“I had this opportunity to build a new building to take it to the future,” Briseno said. “If you’re a small business owner, any money you can save means a lot. It helped me tremendously.”

Beatrice Briseno

One year in, a City program designed to spur economic development by giving small businesses such as Briseno’s the same kind of breaks – in the form of incentives and fee waivers – offered to some large employers has awarded 10 firms fee waivers totaling $158,000.

Officials estimate those discounts resulted in $5 million in investment by those businesses and created 100 jobs.

The Small Business Development Fee Waiver program, implemented in January 2019 after approval by City Council, is one of several efforts by the City’s Economic Development Department to stimulate the local economy by supporting small, minority, and women-owned businesses.

Alejandra Lopez, the newly named director of the department, recently briefed the Council’s Economic and Workforce Development Committee on the progress of those efforts, which also includes the Small Business Economic Development Advocacy (SBEDA) program and its Mentor Protégé Program.

In 2019, the City paid out $253 million to 535 certified small, minority, and women-owned businesses (SWMBE) that fulfilled City contracts valued at over $50,000.

“This figure actually exceeds our fiscal year ’18 numbers in which we paid $223 million to 519 small, minority, and women-owned businesses,” Lopez said.

Fifty-seven percent of City contract dollars were paid to SWMBEs during the year, a 3 percent increase from 2018 and the largest percent utilization of such businesses since the SBEDA program launched in 1992.

The fee waiver program took the place of the Inner City Reinvestment/Infill Policy program last year. It supports projects involving affordable housing, owner-occupied rehabilitation, historic rehab, and business development by providing financial assistance in the form of waivers from the City and from SAWS for sewer and water impact fees.

To be eligible, a business must have been operating for two years or more. The 2019 program budget of $2.5 million allowed for $1.5 million in fees waived for eligible projects.

In addition to the waivers approved for Re/Max Unlimited, the Center City Development and Operations department approved waivers up to $25,000 for each of these businesses last year:

  • Barter Exchange
  • Estrada Holdings
  • Chris Madrid Restaurant
  • Central Texas Express Metalwork
  • Turner Autoplex
  • SA Pops
  • SNG Dialysis Westover Hills
  • San Antonio Vascular & Endovascular Clinic
  • Nicha’s Comida Mexicana
Beatrice Briseno’s new Re/Max Unlimited office is under construction at 835 Hot Wells Blvd.

“This is a result of the many conversations that we have with small businesses because they saw that it’s not fair that large businesses were really the ones needing it just to continue to go to that next level,” said Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3), who spoke about the program last year at a town hall meeting that Briseno attended. “And we talk about business retention expansion – this is a great tool of expansion for small businesses.”

Briseno is grateful for the support of her small business through the fee waivers because the program is helping her grow the business she hopes to pass down to her children. She is devoted to serving a part of San Antonio where she said most real estate franchises don’t venture.

“We obviously serve the whole city, but we do specialize in the inner city, the East Side, the West Side, and the South Side,” Briseno said. “We constantly get, ‘Oh, you work so hard for such a low [home sale] price point.’ But we do want to provide good professional service, no matter what the price point is because they’re the ones that need help.”

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is a journalist and writer in San Antonio, and a business reporter for The Rivard Report.