Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / Rivard Report
On Tuesday, Her Majesty Princess Astrid of Belgium exited a black car amid camera flashes at the City’s International Center and was greeted by Mayor Ivy Taylor, who officially welcomed her to San Antonio.
Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4) joined Taylor at the greeting, before leading the princess into the building for a focus session on San Antonio's cybersecurity, advanced research, and biomedical and health care sectors.
Her Royal Majesty was joined by His Excellency Pieter De Crem, federal secretary of state for Foreign Trade, and a large delegation of 68 people who have taken part in an economic trade mission in Texas.
The Belgian economic mission began in Austin with an official state dinner with Gov. Greg Abbott. After the stop in San Antonio, the tour will move on to College Station and conclude in Houston on Saturday.
Before Taylor gave remarks to the delegation, Free Trade Alliance President and CEO José E. Martinez welcomed Princess Astrid to the building and told her of the Alliance's focus of creating "an environment that is conducive for international business" in the city.
"We're honored to have this important delegation from Belgium to forge opportunities, to engage, to cultivate relationships, and to do business" Taylor said. "Our Honorary Consul for Belgium Robert Braubach said that we have the largest Belgian-American club in the country, with over 650 members here in San Antonio.
"San Antonio's ties to Belgium are deep," she added. "In the 18th century a master blacksmith from Brussels originally did most of the iron work and much of the wood work at two of our five UNESCO World Heritage Designated Missions of San José and our famous Alamo."
A Belgian stone mason helped repair the walls of the Alamo in the 19th century, Taylor said, and she hopes to build on this history – especially after the expected addition of 1 million residents to the area in 2040. These new residents will greatly impact San Antonio's economy, Taylor said, and foreign trade and investment is pivotal to forge future business opportunities in key economic industries.
The connections between Belgium and San Antonio don't stop there. Calvert mentioned cultural events such as Fiesta and the Texas Folklife Festival, events which feature Belgian food and art. Belgian farmers and entrepreneurs in the 1800s and 1900s who came to settle in San Antonio played a crucial role in the city's vibrant and growing economy.
Taylor presented Princess Astrid with an Alcalde, declaring her "honorary mayor" during her time in San Antonio. Calvert gave Her Royal Highness The Hidalgo Award, the Bexar County Commissioners Court highest honor.
"We have very famous universities that are working on developing new technologies but they cannot stand alone," De Crem told reporters during a media briefing. "And the big advantage of working with Texas, for example, is the scale and the space that you get here."
Belgium is very focused on environmental issues, De Creme said, which will greatly impact the world's future economy. When it comes to the relationship between Belgium and Texas in regards to energy, the most important link is between the city of Houston and the port of Antwerp in Belgium.
"We will deepen those relationships and consider developing new technologies which might be related to oil and the oil industry," he said. "We have something very important ... in Belgium, and that's called the brains of our students. There are also a lot of brains here in San Antonio too, and we will bring those brains together."
He added that both countries will strive to work together on scientific developments, medicine, pharmaceuticals, and the food and agriculture sectors.
"That's certainly the starting point that we have," Taylor said, "the brain power that we've got in both places provides a great platform."
After Princess Astrid and the delegation received their economic briefing, Her Royal Majesty headed to the Alamo for a tour, then got a chance to board one of the river barges and floated along the River Walk to Hotel Emma at the Pearl, where a special reception was held in her honor.