San Antonio: The Emerging Upstart

During the decades of Texas’ urban boom, San Antonio has been considered a laggard, a somewhat sleepy Latino town with great food and tourist attractions and a slow pace of life. “There has been a long perception of San Antonio as a poor city with a nice river area,” says Rogelio Sáenz, dean of the public policy school at the University of Texas-San Antonio.

Economic and population data say otherwise. Since 2000, San Antonio has clocked 31.1% job growth, slightly behind Houston, but more than twice that of New York, and almost three times that of San Francisco and Los Angeles.

And many of the new jobs are not in hospitality, or low-end services, but in the upper echelon of employment. This reflects the area’s strong military connections, which have made it a center for such growth industries as aerospace, and cyber-security. Although slightly behind Austin, San Antonio’s STEM job growth since 2001 — 29% — is greater than that of all other Texas cities, as well as San Francisco’s, and three times the national average.

Similar growth can be seen in such fields as business and professional services, where the San Antonio area has expanded its job base by 44% since 2000. This just about tracks the other Texas cities, and leaves the other traditional business service hotbeds — New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles — well behind. The city has also expanded its financial sector; the region ranked seventh in our latest survey of the fastest-growing financial centers. Once again, there is a military connection; much of the area’s financial growth has been based on USAA, which provides financial services to current and former military personnel around the country, and employs 17,000 workers from its headquarters in the city’s burgeoning northwest.

But perhaps most encouraging has been the massive in-migration into San Antonio. Long seen as a place dominated by people who grew up there, the metro area has become a magnet for new arrivals. Since 2010, its rate of net domestic in-migration trails only Austin among the major Texas cities. Significantly, the area’s educated millennial population growth ranks in the top 10 of America’s big cities, just about even with Austin, and well ahead of such touted “brain centers” as Boston, New York, San Francisco.

In the process, San Antonio is emerging as an attractive alternative for young professionals and families to an Austin that has become more congested and expensive. The cost of living in San Antonio is significantly lower than the other Texas cities, and less than half that of places like San Francisco and Brooklyn. As the vanguard of millennials moves into the family forming, childbearing and house-buying years in the coming decade, San Antonio, with its increasingly lively music, art and restaurant scene, is likely to grow in attractiveness.

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