President POV

Perception vs. Reality
by Jenna Saucedo-Herrera

In my role, leading economic development for our greater San Antonio community, I am fortunate to cross paths with people from all walks, places, and experiences. Each person contributes something valuable to the exchange: perspective.

One of my favorite things about the San Antonio region is our willingness to hear different points of view and have them inform our own. Diversity of thought not only makes things interesting, but it keeps us challenged to constantly improve. Our regional strategic planning efforts have been a great example of that practice.

The research phase of our process uncovered a lot of hard facts. It also debunked some of the common misperceptions you hear about San Antonio—think “everyone leaves San Antonio for Austin.” We’re not in competition with our sister region to the north, we’re complementary communities. In reality, San Antonio and Austin traded thousands of residents over the past five years, resulting in a net of about 460 residents moving to Austin, according to IRS data. The process uncovered a story we native San Antonians already knew: That our Hispanic culture makes us unique and attractive, as does our inclusive and collaborative mindset. We enjoy “recession-proof” organic growth, particularly among young people. As I write this piece I am in Japan, discussing these very topics with business leaders. San Antonio’s growth is particularly compelling for our international business prospects, including those here in Japan, that are experiencing population decline. These are assets other cities would love to boast. The perceptions should match our reality.

I am also focused on where our reality still needs to improve. While making incredible strides, educational attainment is still a very real issue for our region. It’s encouraging when we see the progress our region is making, for example between 2012 and 2017, the San Antonio-New Braunfels MSA saw a 49% increase in degrees and certificates awarded. That’s an incredible achievement that I applaud the education and workforce development communities for leading. We still have work to do as a community to make up ground, but when you look at the raw EMSI numbers, our MSA is only about 5,000 total degrees and certificates awarded behind Austin, about 6,000 behind Denver, and 5,000 ahead of Nashville.

Of course, we still have work to do to fill the skills gap, like many other U.S. cities. This is precisely why local private, public, and education sectors work so closely together to align the needs of business with the development of our workforce, and also why we as a community are focused on creating the best possible place for people to live. It’s all about keeping the talent we have while attracting new talent to the market. The plans are working. As we saw with the very large manufacturing announcements last week—Toyota continues to prove its commitment to workforce development, this time with a $500,000 endowment to Alamo Promise.

The Navistar plant, which will serve as the benchmark facility for new technologies and best practices company-wide, will also require skilled workers. These are the jobs of the future and San Antonians will fill them. And while the myth persists that manufacturing jobs are dying off to automation, these announcements are a strong indication that they aren’t. These jobs are evolving like almost every other skilled position. Navistar plans to bring engineering, quality, and production positions to San Antonio because we have the exact programs in place to provide the skilled workers they need.

We are changing the reality of what it means to live and work in San Antonio. I believe it’s time we change the narrative as well.