Texas has neither state nor corporate income taxes, is a right-to-work state and prides itself on its business-friendly climate. San Antonio’s business culture flourishes in a pro-growth environment (abundant land, energy and tax incentives), a pro-business government that welcomes new business and a large, educated workforce.
Along with Dallas and Houston, San Antonio is part of the region dubbed the “Texas Triangle,” with high-tech powerhouse Austin just inside a line drawn between Dallas and San Antonio. According to Texas A&M University’s Real Estate Center, the triangle’s 60,000 square miles are the state’s economic heart where roughly 68 percent of the state’s jobs earn 73 percent of its income for 75 percent of the Texas population, or 17 million people.
San Antonio’s economy is diversified. It is among the nation’s leading centers for cybersecurity. In the past 25 years, the local aerospace industry has grown nearly 400 percent according to the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation. Business services, including manufacturing and distribution, represented 2,850 of the 4,750 new jobs in 2014 reported by SAEDF.
The economic impact of the bioscience and health care industry was more than $37 billion in 2015, according to a San Antonio Chamber of Commerce study, and nearly one out of every six employees in San Antonio works in health care and bioscience. Over the past decade, these two industry sectors have added 41,567 new jobs, a 40 percent increase.
San Antonio’s ability to support solar energy year-round (an average of 220 sunny days per year) and its potential for wind power (on Dec. 20, 2015, winds from a low pressure system supplied 45 percent of the state’s electricity needs) make it attractive for the alternative energy industry.
Joint Base San Antonio also is a major employer, encompassing as it does three geographically separated installations. JBSA, the single largest base/enterprise in the Department of Defense, had more than 80,000 employees in 2016.
Tourism and conventions are big business in San Antonio. The Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center reopened Jan 26, 2016, after a whopping $325 million expansion and now has 514,000 square feet of space for exhibits, 86,500 square feet of column-free multipurpose space, 70 meeting rooms, two ballrooms — one of them the largest in Texas — and the Lila Cockrell Theatre for the performing arts. Conventions bring in millions of dollars in tourism revenues, and the center is expected to rank among the top convention centers in the U.S., with associated employment opportunities. Established tourist draws include, of course, the Alamo Mission ( www.thealamo.org ), which nearly 3 million visitors tour every year; the San Antonio River Walk ( www.thesanantonioriverwalk.com ), downtown’s meandering path of shops, restaurants, bars and theater; SeaWorld San Antonio ( www.seaworldparks.com/en/seaworld-sanantonio ), a watery theme park that is one of the city’s top attractions; and the Six Flags Fiesta Texas ( www.sixflags.com/fiestatexas ) amusement park.
Ranching and agriculture, the military, retail, the railroad and government entities have been economic drivers in Val Verde County and Del Rio, the county seat, from the beginning, though tourism and manufacturing, or maquiladoras, also are important, given Del Rio’s Mexican sister city, Ciudad Acuna, right across the Rio Grande. The mammoth Amistad Reservoir that divides Mexico and the U.S., and the Amistad National Recreation Area on the U.S. side, also have drawn increasing numbers of vacationers since the Lake Amistad Dam across the Rio Grande was completed in 1969.
Two international crossings carry goods and people between the two nations: the Lake Amistad Dam International Crossing and the Del Rio-Ciudad Acuna International Bridge.
Laughlin Air Force Base is the largest employer in the region; the U.S. Border Patrol also is significant, with two stations and sector headquarters that secure 210 miles along the Rio Grande between the U.S. and Mexico to block passage of drugs and prevent illegal immigration into the U.S. The agents cover Amistad Reservoir and the rugged country surrounding it on the U.S. side and 59,541 square miles of Texas that stretch 300 miles into the interior. The 41 counties in the sector are sparsely populated, dotted with isolated ranches and farms, and the sector is a favored corridor for drug and illegal immigrant smuggling.
Del Rio is one of five U.S. cities with an FBI regional headquarters office, and there is a federal courthouse as well.
The Val Verde Correctional Facility in Del Rio, another major employer, completed its latest expansion in 2007 to 303,543 square feet. The medium security prison can house 1,407 inmates. Its clients are Val Verde County, U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Marshals Service, the federal Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Homeland Security — Border Protection.
Other likely regional employment areas are in production, transportation or material moving; construction, extraction and maintenance and repair; management, business and finance; and education.
Del Rio has a geographical advantage over inland cities, what with Ciudad Acuna right across an international bridge that gives access to some 50 factories, or maquiladoras, on the Mexico side. Officials from both cities work together to improve their mutual business environment, and almost 3,000 Del Rio residents cross the bridge daily to jobs in Acuna. Many of these factories operate as twin plants with manufacturing in Ciudad Acuna and offices and shipping operations in Del Rio. Manufacturers include Alcoa, Bendix, Caterpillar, Kimberly-Clark, Toter Inc. and W.E.T. Automotive. Traffic between the two cities has become so intense that leaders from both sides are pushing for another international bridge and a railway spur.
Those dreaming of starting a business or strengthening an existing one can find help at the Sul Ross Rio Grande College Small Business Development Center in Del Rio. Part of the South-West Texas Border Small Business Development Center Network, it provides counseling for new business start-ups, loan assistance, pre-venture information, business plans, capital source suggestions, and information on required permits and licenses, filing reports and record keeping. Established businesses can fine-tune operations by using the center’s counselors on accounting and records, labor and tax planning, manufacturing, expansions and acquisitions, marketing and sales, international trade, export and import advice, inventory control, debt restructuring and cost management. Call 830-703-4811 for more information.
San Antonio and South Texas are rich in groups dedicated to helping entrepreneurs and small and newly formed businesses succeed. Resources include:
- Center for Global Entrepreneurship ( https://business.utsa.edu/center-global-entrepreneurship )
- City of Del Rio Economic Development Department ( www.cityofdelrio.com/291/Economic-Development )
- San Antonio Small Business Development Center ( http://sasbdc.org )
- San Antonio Economic Development Foundation ( www.sanantonioedf.com )
- San Antonio Economic Development Department ( www.sanantonio.gov/edd )
- San Antonio Minority Business Development Agency Center ( www.sanantoniombdacenter.com )
- San Antonio Entrepreneur Center ( www.facebook.com/satxec )
In early 2016, San Antonio’s Economic Development Department released a list of recent rankings for the city: It was No. 10 on Forbes’ Top 10 list of fastest growing cities; No. 10 on Milken Institute’s list for top job growth; No. 2 on Milken Institute’s cities with the most economic momentum, right behind Austin; and in first place for Forbes’ millennial population growth — the 20- to 29-year-old population grew 9.2 percent from 2010 through 2013, a jump of 28,600 people.
The median age in San Antonio is nearly 33 years old and Del Rio is 32 years old, meaning the workforce skews younger. Median household income in San Antonio was $48,183 and $41,662 in Del Rio, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The sales tax is 8.25 percent.
Highway, Air and Rail Access – and a Port
San Antonio’s location makes it a natural connector between the East and West coasts, Canada and Mexico, and Central and South America. Its highways, especially north-south Interstate 35 and east-west Interstate 10, carry goods and people to other Texas population centers, border crossings into Mexico at Del Rio, Laredo and Eagle Pass, and the ports at Houston and Corpus Christi and beyond. More than half the goods traveling between the U.S. and Mexico pass through San Antonio, the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation reports, and many of these northbound goods come from the maquiladora industries in northern Mexico.
The local transit system, VIA, has one of the most comprehensive public transportation systems in the country with 7,080 stops along 91 bus lines, in addition to Bus Rapid Transit service. Multiple motor freight carriers take advantage of the city’s location, distribution and storage centers and business-friendly ways; many specialize in particular types of cargo.
Master planning has converted the former Kelly Air Force Base into Port San Antonio, a 1,900-acre aerospace and industrial complex and an international logistics platform. It splits the difference between the East and West coasts, is on the NAFTA Corridor between Mexico and Canada and has been designated a Foreign Trade Zone. Transportation includes an airport with an 11,500-foot runway; two railroads, Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe; and three interstate highways: I-35, I-10 and I-37.
Five major seaports lie within a three-day drive: Houston and Corpus Christi in the U.S. and Manzanillo, Veracruz and Lazaro Cardenas in Mexico. More than 90 million potential customers are within a two-day drive.
From a duty and tax standpoint, San Antonio benefits as a Foreign Trade Zone, with 11 separate sites where businesses can take advantage of duty reduction or elimination, duty deferral or direct delivery, cutting their costs.
San Antonio’s Aviation Department operates San Antonio International Airport, plus the second-oldest general-aviation airport in the country, Stinson Municipal Airport, both open 24/7. San Antonio International Airport is about 8 miles north of downtown; U.S. 281 and Loop 410 provide direct access. Airlines including Aeromexico, Alaska Airlines, American, Delta, Frontier, Interjet, Southwest, United and Volaris provide service across the United States and into Mexico.
Del Rio is on long-established trade routes between San Antonio to the east and El Paso to the west, and between Mexico and points north in the United States. The city figures in the nation’s planned transportation infrastructure as part of future Interstate 27 from Laredo, Texas, to the Oklahoma Panhandle. Texas state Highway Loop 79 opened its four lanes in 2012 and ties together U.S. 90, U.S. 277 and U.S. 377; it is part of the Ports to Plains Corridor and a component of the hoped-for southern and northern extensions of Interstate 27, which currently runs from Amarillo to Lubbock. The Texas Department of Transportation is studying the feasibility of these north-south extensions to that interstate, which would encourage trade with Mexico. At present east-west U.S. 90 connects San Antonio to El Paso by way of Del Rio. North-south U.S. Route 277 goes north to San Angelo and southeast to Carrizo Springs, where it links to U.S. Route 83 to Laredo. U.S. Route 377 spans West Texas north to Fort Worth.
Fertile soil, moderate weather and pure water from rivers, springs and artesian wells lured small-tract farmers and ranchers to Bexar County from the 1700s, though by the late 19th century, massive cattle drives made big ranches more profitable, and the cotton culture that flourished prior to the Great Depression further consolidated land holdings into fewer hands. By the end of World War II, livestock supplied more than half the county’s agricultural income, though wool and mohair also were major exports. However, as San Antonio has grown, farm and ranch production has shrunk. In 1982, Bexar County ranked 53rd among the state’s counties in agricultural receipts; in 2012, 20 years later, the county had fallen to No. 85. In 2007, there were nearly 426,000 acres of farmland in Bexar County, but within five years, that had declined 19 percent, to 342,882 acres.
The Census of Agriculture showed the top five crop areas in value in 2012 to be nursery, greenhouse, floriculture and sod products; cattle and calves; grains, oilseeds, dry beans and dry peas; other crops and hay; and lastly, vegetables, melons, potatoes and sweet potatoes.
In 1889, oil was discovered, and oil and gas production remain important economic forces. Other mineral resources, to a lesser extent, include limestone, kaolin, clay, fuller’s earth, greensand, lignite and sulfur springs.
Val Verde County’s arid scrub country turned out to be just what goats and sheep like best, and the 2012 Census of Agriculture count ranked the county No. 3 in the state in sheep, goat, wool, mohair and milk production and No. 12 in the nation. There were 41,840 sheep and lambs and 31,273 goats then, a total of 73,113, and sheep and goats outnumbered the 48,879 human residents by 24,234.
One of the more unlikely but flourishing enterprises has been the Val Verde Winery, which will celebrate its 135th year in 2018. Milanese winemaker Frank Qualia was among settlers arriving in 1883, and he realized the potential of the Lenoir, or Black Spanish grape, that made its way from the Carolinas to Southwest Texas. In 1900, 191,000 pounds of grapes were produced in the county and turned into 5,372 gallons of wine. The oldest bonded winery in Texas — some say the nation — the Val Verde Winery in downtown Del Rio now has eight wines and an award-winning tawny port under its label, and is still run by the Qualia family, which in 2007 expanded into olive oil by planting 500 Arbequina olive trees. Their first crop in 2012 produced enough of the buttery, fragrant oil for 65 cases. Go to www.valverdewinery.com for more information.
Increasing numbers of tourists are being drawn to Lake Amistad and the Amistad National Recreation Area for the reservoir’s pristine waters, water-based recreation, camping, hiking, rock-art viewing, bird-watching, hunting and fishing — ESPN gives it a No. 1 ranking for bass. Its shoreline of rolling grassy banks and limestone cliffs measures 851 miles, over twice as long as the whole Texas coastline of 367 miles, and the lake’s clear water and underwater rock formations attract scuba divers. At 65,000 surface acres of water, Amistad is the second-largest lake in Texas, behind only Toledo Bend, and lies at the confluence of the Rio Grande, the Devils River and the Pecos River. Park rangers lead visitors on hikes to view prehistoric pictographs in Seminole Canyon and Panther Cave, and millions of spectacular Monarch butterflies make the park a rest stop during their annual migrations.
Joint Base San Antonio and Laughlin Air Force Base
Joint Base San Antonio is far and away the biggest employer in San Antonio, with more than 80,000 employees at JBSA-Lackland, JBSA-Fort Sam Houston and JBSA-Randolph as of 2016, according to the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation. The most recent Military Economic Impact Statement, for fiscal 2013, determined JBSA’s total economic impact on the community to be $9.7 billion.
Total forces at the three bases numbered 295,907, the Department of Defense calculated: 161,971 at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, 117,994 at JBSA-Lackland and 15,942 at JBSA-Randolph. In addition, there were 81,228 Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine retirees living in the area, and 206,910 veterans.
In fiscal 2013, activities at JBSA created an estimated 50,968 new jobs, each drawing an average annual salary of $40,760; their estimated annual value was $2.1 billion.
Laughlin Air Force Base is the largest employer in Val Verde County with 1,387 active-duty military, 1,032 civilians, 1,268 family members, 72 reservists, 32 foreign student pilots and 267 contractors, according to the most recent figures from the base. In fiscal 2014, the base created 3,654 direct jobs and 845 indirect jobs and the total impact on the local economy was $214.5 million.
In addition to 165 buildings, three runways and 4,500 acres of land, Laughlin has the busiest Air Force airfield in the world, and the base’s 47th Flying Training Wing produces more than one-third of the service’s new pilots every year. For more information, go to www.laughlin.af.mil.