Brookings Study: SA Can Maximize Trade Efforts by Highlighting Cybersecurity Sector

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Guests look at a realtime map running at Root9B. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Inside root9B, a cybersecurity firm located in the Tower Life building in downtown San Antonio.

Researchers at the Brookings Institution released findings this week from a multi-year study detailing how San Antonio and other cities can use data to better target economy-boosting opportunities abroad.

The takeaway: As San Antonio positions itself for greater opportunities in international trade and economic development, it should focus on key industries like cybersecurity, advanced manufacturing, and IT, among a few others. And now city and business leaders have the data and a road map to help them do that.

San Antonio is one six cities featured in the report Six Steps for Metro Areas to Prioritize Global Markets, which discusses best practices for strategic international business development. Released Wednesday, it is the result of a six-year partnership between the City of San Antonio and Brookings and is intended to serve as a guide for local leaders to better assess international markets and identify trade and investment opportunities.

Brookings selected San Antonio through a competitive application process in 2017 to join the group of city-regions seeking to develop trade strategies through research and strategic development problem-solving.

The effort was part of the Global Cities Initiative (GCI) that San Antonio joined in 2012 and is a joint project of Brookings and JPMorgan Chase. Houston is the only other Texas city participating in the GCI. In 2014, San Antonio was one of six pilot communities then selected to take the next step and develop a foreign direct investment strategy.

The guide outlines six steps to evaluate where to best focus international efforts to maximize returns, including how to organize for action, select a priority specialization, determine the goal, measure market opportunities, factor in market accessibility, and combine and synthesize data.

“Our relationship with the Brookings Institution helped build this framework that is based on data and industry feedback,” San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley stated. “This will help us integrate our international efforts with our economic development strategy to create more high-wage jobs and investment while expanding our global footprint in target industries.”

Max Bouchet, research analyst at the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program, called San Antonio a pioneer in helping to create this approach to determining where a city should put its resources in developing trade relationships.

“Through this pilot, San Antonio found new ways to apply data and business intelligence that identify the strongest prospects for economic opportunities, starting with its globally competitive cybersecurity cluster,” Bouchet stated. “Instead of chasing country fads or headlines, San Antonio has figured out how to prioritize markets that truly align with its sectoral strengths, connections, accessibility, and objectives.”

In 2016, San Antonio exported $5.6 billion worth of goods, an increase of 82 percent since 2006, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

“San Antonio is a globally competitive city,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg stated. “Working with Brookings will strengthen our commitment to developing international trade strategies that benefit the citizens of San Antonio and maintain our strong economic momentum.”

The San Antonio Economic Development Foundation will lead the development and implementation of San Antonio’s international trade strategy as supported by the Brookings data.

“[The foundation] is focused on growing a set of target industries in San Antonio where our community is uniquely positioned to become a global leader," said Sarah Sanchez, vice president of global development, in an email. "The work done in partnership with the City of San Antonio and Brookings allows San Antonio to add an additional layer of data onto our international development strategy to prioritize which markets San Antonio should target for foreign direct investment and trade development in the cybersecurity, IT, bioscience, and manufacturing sectors."

The foundation’s International Advisory Council, co-chaired by Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) and Raul Rodriguez-Barocio, associate vice president of Monterrey Tech, was established this year to coordinate trade development strategies for the San Antonio region. Representatives from the public and private sectors, and local chambers of commerce, also serve on the council.

“San Antonio stands to become a global leader in our industries of focus including IT, cybersecurity, bioscience and manufacturing,” Rodriguez-Barocio stated. “[The] International Advisory Council is committed to a data-driven international strategy, informed heavily by industry, to continue driving San Antonio to the forefront of globally competitive cities.”

The Brookings report is based on a year-long comprehensive research collaboration with San Antonio; San Diego; Atlanta; Phoenix; Philadelphia; Milwaukee; Columbus, Ohio; Louisville-Lexington, Kentucky; and Wichita, Kansas.

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