New Talents for New Jobs
Building a robust San Antonio economy in the coming decades requires that we compete for the talent that will drive it. Increasingly this means technical, engineering and entrepreneurial talent. Not only are these people building the companies of tomorrow, they are the most in demand inside existing companies. Yes, Google and Techstars startups need programmers and engineers, but so do USAA, Frost Bank and NuStar. Today’s industries and companies need technical workers and they will go wherever they need to get the talent to compete.
Losing the War
Where will San Antonio be left in this world? Right now it is hard to tell. The city missed out on Google Fiber and chased Uber out of town, so the idea of attracting the talent necessary to drive our future looks bleak. Cities like New Orleans, Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Oklahoma City are aggressively working to win over critical talent…and they are succeeding. San Antonio currently ranks 48th of the 51 largest metropolitan areas in the country for the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds with a four-year college degree. And the truth is a 1% increase in this demographic drives a 2.3% increase in GDP – so we are missing a huge opportunity. And if we lose more battles in this talent war we could face an economic crisis in the future.
“Retain Smart People and Get Out of Their Way”
We need to focus on making SA a place where our educated young stay to build their lives – and work to attract those being crowded (and priced!) out of bigger metro areas. As Harvard economist Edward Glaeser said in an interview for The New York Times, “The most successful economic development policy is to attract and retain smart people and then get out of their way.”
We Have to Up Our Game
San Antonio has a chance to lead in several emerging high growth industries, including Internet infrastructure, cybersecurity, and biotech, and be a strong player in the Internet software and services space. The only limitation to our potential is access to talent. We have to up our game – and do it fast. We urge the City Council and the next mayor to make this their number one priority.
An Organized Force for Change
All of us are committed to helping San Antonio achieve its full potential, so we have come together as an organized force to help drive San Antonio in the right direction. We are Tech Bloc, a group of tech entrepreneurs, employees, investors, and allies committed to bettering the tech community and economy in San Antonio. We will engage our city leadership and hold them accountable for getting San Antonio on track. We will be hands-dirty participants in spurring change and progress. We will foster more collaboration among the people driving our economy today. Finally, we will invest our time and money in the tech economy of our city.
Click here to see a full list of founding Tech Bloc members.
A Call to City Leaders to Respond
While we plan to share more specific proposals and organizational tenets, the following basic beliefs are the core of our view for San Antonio’s future. We are eager to hear our city leaders address these points and respond with a focused plan for San Antonio to make real progress.
- It starts with vibrant urban cores. The educated young have made it clear, in surveys and by voting with their feet, that they will not move to or remain in cities that don’t have vibrant urban areas. Notice areas — plural. While downtown should remain a strong focus, there are other areas where deliberate planning could drive increased livability (e.g. the Medical Center and UTSA). Developing legitimate urban zones requires bold and focused planning. Put bluntly, we fear that never-ending annexation and suburbanization will keep San Antonio from achieving the urban density necessary to attract talent, foster ideas and capital, and compete vigorously in the Internet century.
- We need to build a Central Texas Super Region. Austin’s boom is a great thing for San Antonio and we should proactively seek to collaborate. It is okay for Austin to be Seattle. We can be Portland, the up and coming, more livable alternative. And, honestly, we are not competing with Austin. Austin is over the hump. We are competing with dozens of emerging cities that are moving rapidly and aggressively to get there – Oklahoma City, Kansas City, Nashville, Cincinnati, New Orleans, and many, many more. We should use the critical mass of the Austin-SA corridor to make the case for Central Texas as the next great place to move post-college.
- We need to build on our strengths. SA has compelling advantages and we should build on them to promote the city’s unique appeal. While we compete with other cities, we will win by showcasing our differences — our historical legacy and cultural heritage are core strengths to build upon. By embracing and expanding the authentic elements of our city we can tell a story that is instantly understood and that focuses our priorities as we progress. A strategy built around being the “historic city” would lead to more incentives for restorations, preferences for local businesses and entrepreneurs and show SA as possessing an authenticity hard to find in larger cities like Phoenix or Dallas.
- Small wins lead to big things. Too often the city has tried to skip steps and cheat time by seeking big, major wins. Good intentions are behind the pursuit of an NFL team and the Tesla battery factory, but we should build from where we are. Let’s generate a string of victories and wins that brings progress and excitement in the city. Whether it is winning Google Fiber, creating a world class, city-wide trail system, or encouraging several small but growing tech companies to build here, a set of smaller, achievable wins will add up rapidly and have a huge impact over time.
There are certain things that simply must happen to get us moving and increase our appeal to the talent and companies driving the tech economy. We must find a way to get Uber and Lyft back. We must spark new ambition and investment for our park, bike and walking systems. We must focus economic development on high-growth emergent companies and industries. We must build a transportation system that connects our urban cores. We must level the economic playing field of historic restoration versus low-cost greenfield expansion. We must organize our established and emerging education assets to build modern talent at a faster pace. We must reposition our city as a place to live and thrive, not just to visit.
In the Race, But Falling Behind
San Antonio is at a critical juncture. Cities will define the next century and the next great cities are emerging. We are in the race, but falling behind. We cannot be just a cheap place to retire. To build a truly dynamic economy — one with net immigration, frequent new company creation, broad innovation and rising economic tides — we must develop the extraordinary resources inherent in our city, not just in our expansive geography. The elements to thrive are in place, but without real conviction, ambition and resources, we will not reach our potential.
Learn More, Join the Movement
Do you agree with us? If so, please join us and other Tech Bloc members at our kickoff event on May 19 at Southerleigh at Pearl. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and let's build San Antonio together.
And, in the meantime, don’t forget to vote.
*Featured/top image: Fist graphic/logo courtesy of Tech Bloc.