San Antonio: Fastest Growing City in Nation, But Sleepy Reputation Lingers
As the city of San Antonio celebrates its tricentennial this year, the word may finally be getting out.
Last year, more than 24,000 new residents moved into San Antonio, an influx greater than any other city in the nation. Long considered the slightly-sleepy, Tex-Mex cousin to Texas’s larger, more cosmopolitan cities, San Antonio may still be best known for its top two tourist destinations, the Alamo and the Riverwalk.
But probably not for much longer, as that eye-popping growth is expected to continue. San Antonio and Bexar County leaders are busy planning on how to accommodate more than a million additional residents by 2040.
The early adopters are already here
They’ve been arriving — in some cases, returning home — for the past couple decades, quietly fueling ever more vibrant food and arts scenes, and expanding 21st century industries like cybersecurity, aerospace and financial services, which now crowd out tourism as the city’s top industry.
They’re fixing up old homes and revitalizing downtown landmarks, opening restaurants and coffee shops, starting technology companies, refilling inner city school districts and filling new charter schools. They’re establishing centers for bioscience, technology commercialization and energy, funding major performing arts venues, expanding green spaces and river improvements and just generally laying the foundation for a vibrant future.
‘America’s Next Great Metropolis’
What's attracting those early adopters? A strong, diversified economy, a growing technology ecosystem and the cost of living, to name a few reasons.
San Antonio is at one end of a growth corridor that is expanding “more rapidly than any other in the nation,” writes Joel Kotkin, who covers demographic, social and economic trends for Forbes. Anchored by Austin to the north, “no regional economy has more momentum.” And while much has been written about Austin, San Antonio’s maturation has flown largely under the radar.
“The emerging upstart,” Kotkin calls the Alamo City:
Since 2000, San Antonio has clocked 31.1 percent 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 cybersecurity. … San Antonio’s STEM job growth since 2001 — 29 percent — is greater than that of all other Texas cities, as well as San Francisco’s, and three times the national average.
‘A tech center of gravity’
Michael Girdley, tech investor, founder of coding boot camp CodeUp, and a founder and managing director of the venture capital Geekdom Fund, was born and raised in San Antonio, but like many, left for greener pastures as soon as he could. He returned in 2003, and has been working ever since to help San Antonio become the dynamic city it is today.
“We’ve benefitted from a confluence of tailwinds,” Girdley said. “People want to live where it’s warm, Texas is a good business environment, Austin and other markets are a little overheated, and we have a crop of community minded billionaires here who are really pushing to make this a great city.”
All of San Antonio’s biggest and fastest growing industries, he noted — aerospace, defense, advanced manufacturing, financial services, biosciences, energy and cybersecurity — “have a tech backbone to them,” while the city now has a tech “center of gravity.”
Cost of living is another huge selling point. At roughly 12 points below the national average, San Antonio’s lower cost of living means that even young single millennials can afford to become home owners. The city’s size and age also mean there are neighborhoods for every lifestyle, from leafy suburbs and new communities to vintage downtown districts.
For the past twenty years, Rackspace has played a critical role in that growth, helping establish the city as the tech hub it is now becoming. Today, with more than 6,000 employees worldwide and roughly 3,600 in our San Antonio headquarters, Rackspace is one of the region’s largest employers, while former Rackers (as we call our employees) have gone on to create and invest in dozens of companies in and around San Antonio, a testament to both the company’s deep entrepreneurial ethos, and the attractiveness of the city where it was founded.
Yet even as San Antonio continues to land on various “top” and “best of” lists, the city’s reputation has yet to catch up — as evidenced by our continued inclusion on “most underrated cities” lists.
Winning over the skeptics
“I’ll be honest, I had a pretty one-dimensional view of San Antonio before I got here,” says Rackspace CMO Mark Bunting, an entrepreneur, tech whisperer and adjunct professor at UT Austin.
Bunting rented a place in King William, one of the oldest neighborhoods in San Antonio. Part of the Southtown neighborhood, King William and its section of the San Antonio river were one of the earliest historic areas to be revitalized into the highly desirable, walkable (and paddle-able!) urban neighborhood it has become.
“I generally stick close to home since there are so many amazing restaurants within walking distance,” he said, “but I’ve also been struck by how big and diverse this city is, and how incredibly easy it is to navigate: I can get anywhere in less than 20 minutes.”
Bunting clearly isn’t alone in his discovery that San Antonio is more cosmopolitan, and more diverse — in every respect — than he realized.
“But don’t take my word for it," he said. "Come explore. I predict you’ll be converted too — no cowboy boots required.”