Recognizing A Week When San Antonio Surged Ahead

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Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Mayor Ron Nirenberg speaks to the value San Antonio will receive from the Toyota announcement.

The media has always been far more skilled at telling public officials and community leaders what they’re doing wrong than what they’re doing right. This past week was an extraordinary one in San Antonio because a lot of people working together have quietly been doing a lot of things right this year. It’s worth pausing to savor their success.

I seldom write two columns on a single weekend, but this week’s wins merit recognition of City, County, and economic development officials, and a coalition of business and education leaders.

The announcement that Toyota will invest $391 million in upgrades to a manufacturing plant that already was one of the most modern in North America is a remarkable win, given that nine other competitive Toyota sites in North America were vying for the same investment.

The news overshadowed word that came later in the week that Illinois-based Navistar, a global manufacturer of commercial vehicles, chassis, and diesel engines, plans to break ground on a $250 million Southside plant later this year that will bring 600 more manufacturing jobs to San Antonio.

Smart jobs require smart workers, which is why the launch of the Early Matters San Antonio initiative was just as important in terms of long-term investment in San Antonio. With a blue-ribbon steering committee co-chaired by former Texas House Speaker Joe Straus and Holt Cat CEO Peter John Holt, the Early Matters initiative will provide greater access to quality, all-day pre-K for many of the city’s 4-year-olds who are not enrolled at this time.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

A Pre-K 4 SA bus is parked outside of the Northside learning center during the announcement of an Early Matters steering committee on Monday.

San Antonio is a nationally-recognized leader with its innovative Pre-K 4 SA program, which was created with voter approval nearly eight years ago. The Early Matters San Antonio team will lead the campaign to get voters to once again approve use of a one-eighth-cent sales tax to fund the four Pre-K 4 SA centers and the program’s outreach to area school district early education programs.

Renewal of the tax will be on the November 2020 ballot.

There have been any number of competing entities that have expressed, at least privately, a desire to acquire some or all of that one-eighth-cent sales tax rather than see continuation of Pre-K 4 SA funding. That challenge was quashed Wednesday when Mayor Ron Nirenberg appeared on stage at the Pearl Stable for the Rivard Report’s annual “Conversation With the Mayor,” and declared that he is committed to campaigning for the program’s renewal.

That’s good news for Pre-K 4 SA CEO Sarah Baray, Kate Rogers of the Charles Butt Foundation, Shari Albright of Raise Your Hand Texas, and other education advocates who seldom make the news but are working hard to improve education outcomes in San Antonio and throughout the state.

Nirenberg also pointed out that the City is making a multimillion dollar long-term investment in the Alamo Promise so more local high school graduates can attend the first two years of college without undue financial hardship.

With such education initiatives at work at both ends of the learning spectrum, San Antonio’s smart job workforce can only grow.

One measure of our continuing economic diversification might be in the somewhat muted response felt around the city in the wake of this week’s good news tsunami. People are starting to take such growth and progress for granted.

In the case of Toyota, I would say San Antonio pulled off a very big win that could easily have gone the other way with one or two badly timed tweets from the White House.

Over time, long-running tensions between the Trump administration and Mexico became a strike against San Antonio. Why would Toyota invest in its San Antonio Tundra and Tacoma truck lines if President Trump was going to ignite a tariff war? The threat of using trade as a political weapon with Mexico led to a dramatic slowing in the flow of asylum-seeking migrants crossing the U.S. border. A worsening trade war with China caused Mexico and NAFTA 2.0 to fall out of the news.

San Antonio’s core strengths ultimately overcame any doubts in Toyota City.

What are those strengths? An existing workforce that has proven its skills and competitiveness to Toyota officials, and a local supplier network that consistently delivers quality, on-time work. An efficient and reliable supply chain that starts in northern Mexico. An abundance of affordable and reliable energy and water. A working consensus among city, county, and economic development officials and the local business community. San Antonio negotiates with one voice.

People like doing business in San Antonio. It’s a city willing to see its neighbors share in the prosperity, knowing a step forward in one part of the growing metropolitan area is a step forward for everyone.

Take the 900 smart jobs coming to Cibolo, a small city of 30,000-plus that straddles Bexar and Guadalupe counties and has more than doubled in population in less than one decade. It will soon be home to a $400 million manufacturing plant along Interstate 10 that will be home to  Aisin AW Co., a Japanese manufacturer of drivetrains, transmissions, and vehicle information technology. It’s one more signal that the San Antonio-New Braunfels-San Marcos-Austin corridor is evolving into one giant, interdependent metropolis.

Success builds on itself. San Antonio’s economic development brain trust has delivered. Nirenberg, City Manager Erik Walsh, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, and San Antonio Economic Development CEO Jenna Saucedo-Herrera, and their respective teams, have all delivered. Last week was a week to remember.

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