2020 brought a string of headlines about companies moving operations to more convenient locales - in some cases, from California to Texas. Some of the moves were planned before the pandemic, while others sprang from fundamental shifts in work behavior and norms caused by COVID19.
KENS 5 Eyewitness News spoke with the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation about its pitch to companies- and potential remote workers- and the impact moves to San Antonio could have on the economy. KENS 5 also spoke with the CEO of Tech Bloc for perspective on how San Antonio's tech industry is progressing, and what might be done to attract more investment and grow the local workforce.
In this episode of Commerce Street, a business podcast from KENS 5, host Erica Zucco explores what these shifting dynamics mean for San Antonio and its workforce.
Sean Attwood, Vice President of Business Development specializing in Tech and Cybersecurity for SAEDF, discussed his pitch to potential San Antonio transplants.
"The interesting thing is that San Antonio is a gift to many of these folks who want to live that urban lifestyle and want to have access to better education and they want to be able to afford a home and start a family," Attwood said. "They really want to build wealth and have a legacy and that can really happen in San Antonio and that is a big part of our message here."
Attwood attributes interest by companies moving to San Antonio to the city's diversity, culture and outdoor green spaces, saying the pandemic has caused everyone to reconsider what constitutes a good quality of life.
"I think that over the past year or so, everybody from all walks of life has had maybe a little more of existential time to themselves and I think the thing that brings us all back to earth is being part of something beautiful," Attwood said. "Experiencing beauty, experiencing arts, experiencing culture...that is something I don’t want to overlook and should be integrated into quality-of-life conversations."
One company that recently moved extensive operations from out of state to San Antonio is the Pabst Brewing Company; it's the kind of move Attwood says brings mutual benefits.
"That was a big decision in 2020, they are expected to grow their workforce anywhere from between 100 to 150 employees working at the headquarters right now in downtown San Antonio," Attwood said. "What’s so great about the Pabst story is that it’s not the thing that you see in the headlines. There were no city incentives, there were no taxpayer dollars going to them for them to relocate and they immediately started investing in the community. I don’t know if all the listeners have heard about this but they purchased a warehouse off of Avenue B over there off of Broadway near the Pearl, and they’re building a culture park. So, it’s going to have a BMX park, a skate park, movie theater, art gallery. Because they are just trying to be part of the change."
When asked about the potential for growth in the tech industry in San Antonio, Attwood pointed to established, stable industries such as cybersecurity and advanced manufacturing as assets. He also see the city's proximity to the closest neighbor to the north as a bonus.
"I will give it to Austin, they have done a tremendous job of building their brand and of attracting a certain type of creative talent that helps drive those innovations for companies like Tesla and NeuroLink," Attwood said.
"We are right there, [leading in] cybersecurity. We have an amazing cluster of advanced manufacturing and you can see how cybersecurity and advanced manufacturing go hand-in-hand. We lead in internet infrastructure."
Tech Bloc CEO David Heard says while many high-profile moves over the past few years have been to Austin, he believes San Antonio has unique advantages that should be emphasized when highlighting the city to businesses and workers.
"Austin has about 5,500 tech companies. From the largest all the way down to the smallest start-ups. That’s generously about 10 times the number of tech companies in San Antonio, maybe more," Heard said. "So we’ve got a tremendous challenge, but we’ve also got a tremendous opportunity. We can regionally build alliances with Austin, we can build a metroplex here that's not just about San Antonio versus Austin. This could be a central Texas story that could pay huge dividends for San Antonio."
In addition, Heard says tech growth trends nationwide could impact the Alamo City.
"So many industries from leisure tourism, restaurant, bar, those types of things have taken huge hits [during the pandemic]. The human impact is significant in our hearts go out to all of those workers, but this period has also underscored for the tech industry, and really all citizens in the United States, how important a highly skilled a tech ready workforce is," Heard said. "While other industries have been sort of dormant or declining during this period, because of lockdowns and the like, there have been over four million job postings US wide for the last 10 months in IT. Which shows that not only has the industry not experienced the same type of decline, it’s been explosive growth in tech. So again, we will talk a little more about this, but it underscores the importance of us here in San Antonio to remain committed to building the tech economy and workforce in our community so that we don’t get left behind from an economic development standpoint."
Heard also share some insights into what helps San Antonio's workforce stand apart.
"Our workforce is a hard-working, grounded workforce that doesn’t have a strong sense of entitlement. I think that there is a hunger among our young people, and indeed all our workers, to do the right things to develop skills, be diligent workers on behalf of their employers," Heard said. "We tend to be a community that loves our city and is committed to our city."
See below for more stories from Commerce Street, a podcast from KENS 5: