By Robert Rivard
Ever hear of CareerBliss.com? Me, neither. Doesn't matter. Everyone half my age probably knows all about the site and its mantra: "CareerBliss empowers users with Jobs, Salaries and Company reviews. Let us help you find a happier job."
The important thing is that CareerBliss just rated San Antonio #10 in its survey of 38,000 people whose opinions were sifted to determine the "Top 20 Cities With Happiest Young Professionals." Not bad. Not best, but a long way from the days when the only San Antonio mention on such magazine lists ranked us among the fattest, least fit, or worst cities to recreate in, day or night. Only Trinity University in US News & World Report's annual college rankings, and Tex-Mex food in more general lifestyle drive-bys, ever seemed to earn us any outside praise.
Some of you are undoubtedly waiting for the rest of the story. Okay, San Antonio made #10. How about Austin? They must be higher, right? Austin didn't make the list, at least not this year. Two Dallas suburbs, Irving and Plano, were ranked #14 and #18, respectively, and Houston came in at #20. Los Angeles was #1, and six of the top 10 cities were in California. So, are such lists believable? Do we really believe young professionals in San Antonio are happier than their counterparts in Austin? If you answer yes, I'd say you're probably paid to say so. Irving? That's in the flight path of DFW Airport. Plano? I remember when Newsweek infamously named it the nation's "teenage suicide capital," a vast and alienating landscape.
I saw the CareerBliss survey on Forbes.com, which was passed along to me by local young urban professionals who are hard at work making San Antonio a more attractive home for creative class migrants. Surveys like these mean a lot when San Antonio gets noticed. People take heart. And the original article is shared endlessly via Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, thus reinforcing broader opinion, since so many young professionals get their news and information not from mainstream media but from their own trusted social networks.
A New York Times reporter assigned to profile Mayor Julián Castro last week got a little carried away (a little?) when he wrote that "San Antonio has become a kind of Berkeley of the Southwest," but he certainly got our attention. You could just about hear people agreeing: "Why, shucks, I guess we are getting a little like Berkeley. Thanks, New York Times." But are we? Are you kidding? Ever been to Berkeley?
But the reporter did get it right when he added that San Antonio has evolved into a "progressive, economically vibrant and Democratic-leaning city of 1.3 million in Republican-dominated Texas. A few blocks from City Hall, mariachi singers with acoustic guitars serenade diners at Mi Tierra with old Mexican ballads, while outside sits something new: a row of bicycles ready for renting, part of the city’s popular bike-sharing program. Last year, the Milken Institute, an economic policy institute in Santa Monica, Calif., named San Antonio the best-performing city in the country, "based on its ability to create and sustain jobs."
So, there we go. Positive national press about San Antonio, and a reminder that we are, indeed, a city on the move. Speaking of lists, that Milken Institute study continues to be mentioned and not just via social media. I've heard any number of business and civic leaders cite it after San Antonio jumped from #14 on the list in 2010 to #1 in 2011.
Here's why everyone is working it into their speeches: "The 2011 Milken Institute Best-Performing Cities Index ranks U.S. metropolitan areas by how well they are creating and sustaining jobs and economic growth. The components include job, wage and salary, and technology growth. In most years, these give a good indication of the underlying structural performance of regional economics. The full report can be downloaded here." In other words, the study measures economic development, not how happy young creative classes are feeling as they bike down to the food trucks or meet at a bar for a retro cocktail.
Such surveys, however, are not to be taken at face value. We know who we are. We know our strengths and we know our weaknesses, and when national media attention subsides, as it always does, we should look inward to judge ourselves. After all, it was only a little more than a month ago, at the end of July, when the very same Forbes.com pronounced Houston as the Coolest City in America. Houston? Bad air, bad traffic, bad sports franchises. Great dining, great art, lots of wealth, but coolest in the country? How often have you heard someone say, "Well, I'm here now, but you watch. Some day I'll be in Houston." Actually, never.
July was the same month that AARP rated San Antonio as #7 on the list of Top 10 Cities to Live on $100 a Day, a measure of our appeal to retirees on a budget. That's nice, but it won't take us into the 21st century where we want to go.
I'm satisfied knowing we have some of the nation's most competent public servants right now. I'd rate our mayor, city manager, CPS Energy CEO, SAWS CEO, and the San Antonio police chief as good or better than any of their counterparts in other cities. That will earn me a rash of email and comments, no doubt, but isn't that what such ratings are all about?