Post-election growth summit confirms SA now in economic driver’s seat

Ready or not, here we come. That’s the unofficial battle cry for San Antonio leaders armed with an arsenal of new data from multiple experts which portrays the Alamo City as one of the fastest-growing and most critically important economies in the nation.

That new intelligence was presented as part of the inaugural Alamo Area Growth Summit on Wednesday. The nation’s seventh largest city has hit an historic stride, said Joel Kotkin, executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism and one of the key presenters at the San Antonio Business Journal summit.

Kotkin, whose research on the expanding economic vitality of Texas’ largest cities served as the centerpiece for the first summit, said, “I had always thought of San Antonio, and a lot of people have, as a little bit sleepier, a little bit less on the cutting edge. Actually, (it’s) becoming the cutting edge.”

San Antonio Now a Growth Market

Kotkin shared several key indicators which back his notion that San Antonio is anything but a sleepy city now, including the fact that the market has become a prime target for people elsewhere in the nation looking for a more economically stable landing place.

“That’s how you keep score,” Kotkin told those who attended the summit. “That’s telling us something.”

One of the factors driving that in-migration is the reality that San Antonio is securing and creating more high-paying jobs at a time when several other major cities are struggling to retain employment opportunities and population.

Texas Triangle an Area of Economic Opportunity

Many in San Antonio have long clung to an inferiority complex that has at times hindered growth in this city. Former mayor Henry Cisneros, who served as keynote speaker at the first Alamo Area Growth Summit, and who has worked for years to address that lack of vision and confidence, said San Antonio and Austin are positioning themselves as a key point in a “Texas triangle” of economic prosperity that has global implications.

That triangle, he said, represents 66 percent of Texas’ population and 77 percent of the state’s overall gross domestic product.

Steve Atkins, president of The Atkins Group and chairman of the San Antonio Area Tourism Council, told me just before entering Pearl Stable for the summit that he was hopeful there would be a message of confirmation that the Alamo City is indeed headed toward historic economic opportunities.

His takeaway afterward: “What was presented in fact was surprising to me and I think to this audience. There was an aggregate of information about San Antonio that really should stimulate discussion about a more proactive approach in how we get out of our low self-esteem, about how we realize our own values and strengths that really do exist here and then everybody leverage them.”

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, who participated on a panel at the inaugural summit, said the outside confirmation about the city is timely and can be used as ammunition to pursue additional economic opportunities. But he also told me local leaders must be careful to avoid any temptation to become complacent.

“We are going in the right direction,” he said. “But we’ve got to understand this will not just keep going by itself. It will take more investment in infrastructure and in the development of the right workforce. Those are not things we can slow down on.”

Rene Dominguez, director of the city of San Antonio’s economic development department, echoed that sentiment.

“We need to continue to work with our partners in Austin to advance the region in some really critical industries,” he said. “We need to bring more investment and jobs to the region.”

W. Scott Bailey covers health care, tourism, sports business, economic development; he also plans and edits some special reports.

This article originally appeared in on November 10, 2016