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As the list of projects and funding requests for the 2017 City Budget and 2017 Municipal Bond grows, priorities are emerging for the San Antonio City Council and its key industries. During briefing sessions on Tuesday, a Council committee heard from representatives from the aerospace, advanced manufacturing, cybersecurity, and IT industries.
The various proposals were given to a receptive Economic and Human Development Committee which is chaired by Councilman Joe Krier (D9) and includes Roberto Treviño (D1), Rebecca Viagran (D3), Ray Lopez (D6) and Mike Gallagher (D10). This was the second briefing session called for by Krier, who wanted to hear from industry leaders about infrastructure and program needs as City Council considers its budget and bond priorities.
Read more about presentations from healthcare, biosciences and academic research sectors that took place earlier this month here: With Investment, City’s Healthcare and Biosciences Sector Poised for Growth.
What’s a ‘Chief Talent Officer?’
If San Antonio wants to get serious about connecting emerging tech companies with homegrown and imported talent, then the city will need more than job boards, Tech Bloc CEO David Heard said Tuesday. That’s why the tech advocacy group is working closely with the City’s Economic Development Department (EDD) to ask City Council to include seed funding for a “chief talent officer” that would be tasked with making those connections in a more aggressive and coordinated way.
The salary and startup materials for two years would cost about $300,000, Heard estimated, adding that the chief talent officer would be “both a position and a function. The program would be broader and include recruitment, outreach, and a kind of clearinghouse for information so that everyone understands who’s looking for work and who’s hiring.”
City Council will see a proposed 2017 City Budget in August, discuss desired changes, and then vote on a final budget in September.
Among the talent officer’s many functions, chief among them would be to help tech companies of all sizes – especially startups that can’t afford to hire a headhunter – find the right pool of employees, whether that pool is in our own backyard or abroad.
As it stands today, said EDD Director Rene Dominguez, the system is “fairly fractured.”
“There’s not really a place that aggregates that supply (of worker) and then connects it to industry in a very sophisticated, unified way,” Dominguez said.
The talent officer is just one of many ideas that Tech Bloc and the City are collaborating on and it may be possible to find money outside of the budget in the form of a grant, he said. “There might be other pots of money … and ways to utilize and leverage funding.”
If established, Heard said, the talent office/officer would need to be self-sustaining. That might look like some sort of membership program that spreads out the costs of recruitment amid the hundreds of startups, small businesses, and large businesses.
There is a possibility that the concept could be replicated in the health care, bioscience, manufacturing, and other key industries for workforce development, Dominguez said. “These initiatives are industry-driven … so it has to do with their (needs and) leadership.”
Tech Symposium on the Horizon
Public and private partners are looking into hosting a first-of-its kind symposium this fall that would bridge the geographic and philosophical gaps between the young startup community blossoming in the downtown San Antonio Tech District and the decades-old cornerstones of the industry: research institutions, the U.S. military (especially the local Air Force cybersecurity components), and large private companies like those found in Port San Antonio.
The symposium’s concept is still in development, Dominguez said. “There’s a strong interest from the City to make sure that the startup community collaborates with applied research institutions and also with our corporations.”
Cybersecurity also had a strong presence in the room on Tuesday as Will Garrett, who leads the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce‘s City and Bexar County funded Cybersecurity San Antonio initiative, presented an overview of the growing plans for an incubator in Geekdom.
Tech: More Than a Job, it’s a ‘Lifestyle’
Another “ask” of the Council presented by Heard and others was to support walkability, better mass transportation (or carless transportation), place making, entertainment/nightlife, and other initiatives that encourage thoughtful density and a so-called “marriage market” for young professionals – both men and women – working in tech.
“Our mission is to create a startup ecosystem where the next Rackspace can happen,” said Lorenzo Gomez, CEO of Geekdom and 80/20 Foundation executive director, before referencing the marriage market theory by Bloomberg View columnist Edward Glaeser. “Great cities have great urban areas that become marriage markets – it’s where young people go to find a mate and San Antonio has been severely lacking behind in the last couple of decades. When someone dates, that’s a big thing.”
San Antonio has the married-in-suburbia market down, but it’s not seen as somewhere for a young person to come.
Geekdom, a co-working/incubator space for tech compnaies and tech workers, has more than 450 member companies and more than 1,000 members. The Kauffman Index of Growth Entrepreneurship recently ranked San Antonio as No. 9 in the country in terms of startup growth. Austin and Washington D.C. still lead the pack at No. 2 and No. 1, respectively.
Most of the elements that help the tech industry have nothing to do with tech because workers in the industry are so mobile, Heard said.
“Tech workers are very transportable, they’re very hireable and have desirable skills. You can pretty much move anywhere and get a job,” he said. “So at the end of the day, a career in tech is a lifestyle decision as well.”
Heard, who is also the vice president of marketing for SecureLogix, said his company recently lost an executive to Austin. “My wife thinks Austin is cooler,” he recalled the executive’s reason behind the decision.
Alamo Manufacturing Partnership Vies for Federal Institute
The manufacturing industry is one of the largest in the city, said San Antonio Manufacturers Association President Reynaldo “Rey” Chavez, and boasts a $30 billion annual economic impact for San Antonio: More than $2 billion in wages was paid to 51,024 employees last year.
Chavez advocated for continued support for the strong workforce development programs and initiatives developed in partnership with Alamo Colleges and industry partners.
“They work, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” Chavez said.
John Dewey chairs Manufacturers Association’s committee on workforce development and leads the local Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership program (Alamo Manufacturing Partnership), one of two dozen federal designations that gives the city preference when applying for grants that impact manufacturing.
The partnership is currently working on a competitive application that would bring the next headquarters of a federal manufacturing innovation center to San Antonio. Part of that bid includes establishing a facility at Port San Antonio that would focus on robotics, Dewey said.
“(The facility would be a) national showcase of robotics with the center of that here in San Antonio,” he said.
The partnership is requesting financial help from the City to convert a now-vacant building at Port SA to the tune of more than $1.2 million and help with rent for five years that would total $350,000.
The association and partnership both advocated for Port San Antonio’s request for funding.
Port San Antonio’s Drainage Problem
More than 70 public and private companies have headquarters or branch operation facilities at Port San Antonio, the former Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio’s Westside. To continue the pace of developing hundreds of acres of unused land and reach the ambitious goal of adding 5,000 jobs to the Port by 2020, a critical drainage channel must be completed, said Port SA President and CEO Roland Mower.
The inland port experiences flooding from Leon Creek during heavy rainfall, so the Port has a $21.2 million drainage channel project in the works that will allow the Port to fully develop.
“Our pledge to the city is that between now and the bond election, we will continue to work with partners to fund the project,” Mower said. “But this is absolutely our one ask from the bond budget.”
The 2017-2022 bond is expected to be an $850 million program, the largest bond program in the city’s history. Draft spending recommendations from City Council are expected to be completed in August after which a series of review sessions and public input sessions will be held before the bond reaches voters in May 2017.
Top image: Geedom CEO Lorenzo Gomez presents an overview of the startup ecosystem in San Antonio to a City Council committee. Photo by Iris Dimmick.