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San Antonio Holds Onto Bottom Of Top Tech Talent Markets

Brandon Watts http://bit.ly/1gXUTNn

A new report from commercial real estate investors CBRE ranked San Antonio the 46th largest market for technology talent.

About 32,000 workers live in the city. That’s about a thousand more employees than two years ago.

At the top of the list are perennial technology hubs like San Francisco’s Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington D.C.

In Texas, Austin grabbed the sixth spot, two places higher than last year. Dallas is down two at 12, and Houston dropped one to 32 on the list.

Hulu, the high-profile tech company, expanded into San Antonio more than a year ago. Elected officials often speak about the importance of creating the next century’s jobs here. But the percentage of tech workers in the total San Antonio workforce has remained stuck at 3.1 percent for several years.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the report isn’t all bad news. He pointed to the net gain in college graduates. He said the city is keeping pace with job creation.

Credit Courtesy of CBRE

“That said, it is a wake-up call, though, because for San Antonio to continue to compete and win opportunities for our community, we need to recognize that it’s not just us,” he said. “It’s every city in America that’s leaning in on the jobs of the new economy.”

San Antonio ranked first among small tech markets in millennial population growth, with 12.5 percent between 2011 and 2016. Brookings found even greater growth, more than 14 percent, among millennials in a January report.

“We do celebrate the growth of our tech scene, and we have a lot to be proud of,” said Tech Bloc CEO David Heard. He pointed to the clustering of technology companies on Houston street and cyber security companies at Port San Antonio.

But this report isn’t a wake up call for him.

“It’s a continued reminder of the gap we have to close and the work we have to do,” Heard said.

Credit Courtesy of CBRE
San Antonio nets more college grads than it loses.

He’s been tracking it for more than four years. San Antonio barely cracking the top 50 talent markets was one reason they started Tech Bloc, to advocate for policies and issues that attract technology companies and talent.

“If this were a baseball game, we are in the first or second inning, We have a long way to go,” he said.

Heard said he hopes San Antonio's work around workforce development through organizations like the Open Cloud Academy and CodeUp, education, as well as creating the city/county-funded position of chief talent and recruitment officer, will prepare the city for jumps in growth down the road.

San Antonio benefits from a lower cost of living than large technology talent markets, something Heard said they expect to reap benefits from in the future. The sheer expense of markets like Seattle and San Francisco is something that may drive talent to smaller cities.

“They set up the more affordable communities like San Antonio, like a Nashville, Pittsburg, to be more attractive in that next wave of tech employment migration,” he said.

Austin has been in the top ten for more than four years and continues to see growth and cost of living increases. Heard hopes San Antonio can draft off the success of its northern neighbor and that the story turns to one of growth along the corridor between the two metro areas.

“If I was to say recruiting was easy, someone would kick down my door and start yelling at me,” said Scaleworks partner Ed Byrne. “But I don’t think it has been a barrier to our businesses at all.”

Employees at Scaleworks' Savoy building. Nick Honegger, right, will help manage PastureMap.
Credit Paul Flahive | Texas Public Radio

Scaleworks purchases companies and relocates them to San Antonio, often adding new managers. They currently have more than 100 employees working at their portfolio of businesses.

He said people don’t know what the city has to offer, and as more tech workers enter the age when they are having kids, buying houses, and are looking at school districts, San Antonio becomes an attractive place to live.

Byrne, himself a transplant, said the city needs to get the word out about all those things.

“Cost of living is great for entry-level positions, but if we create a culture where we don’t rise those people, we are just creating a rustbelt of talent,” said Drue Placette, executive director of the San Antonio Museum of Science and Technology. Placette warned against incentive deals that promise lots of jobs but with few middle or senior management jobs attached.

Cloud and cybersecurity are two areas where San Antonio shines, he said, and that is what we need to focus on promoting.

“Rather than try to reinvent ourselves," he said, "we need to realize who we are."

Paul Flahive can be reached at paul@tpr.org or on Twitter @paulflahive

Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org