What makes San Antonio prosper?

The nonprofit, nonpartisan economic think tank Milken Institute released its “Best-Performing Cities” list earlier this year. Among large U.S. economies, nine Texas cities appeared in the top 30. On the small cities list, Texas boasted seven out of the top 25 (e.g., Midland).

High technology and oil & gas drive much of Texas’ fiscal health. Population growth, inexpensive labor and no state income tax have made Texas a net importer of companies and jobs. Instability to the south has streamlined Mexican wealth into Texas investments.

And while the Eagle Ford shale play has and will boost San Antonio’s economy in particular, a confluence of other factors has made the Alamo City what The Atlantic magazine called “the most recession-proof city in America.” Staff writer Derek Thompson attributed San Antonio’s success to the “meds, enlisteds, eds and beds” effect.


True fact: one out of every six people in San Antonio works in the bioscience / healthcare sector. The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio certainly anchors the industry. But local employers like KCI, CVS Caremark, Mission Pharmacal and Medtronic have done their part.

Others have, too. Biomedical visionary InCube Labs opened its first incubator outside of Silicon Valley in San Antonio in 2010. Advocacy organization BioMedSA has unified many local interests to make the case for San Antonio.

San Antonio has enjoyed “Military City, USA” distinction for years. But the U.S. Army’s decision to centralize most medical training functions at Fort Sam Houston has further entrenched the city’s health care credentials.


Speaking of the armed forces, the economic impact of having every Air Force trainee come through San Antonio’s Lackland Air Force Base should not be underestimated. Lackland, Fort Sam Houston and Randolph Air Force Base comprise “Joint Base San Antonio,” the largest base organization in the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).

From the Joint Base’s Web site: “[The base] services more DoD students than any other installation, has more active runways than any other installation, houses the DoD’s largest hospital and supports more than 250,000 personnel including 425 retired general officers.”


Consider this: 1,300,000 people live in San Antonio’s metro area. 100,000 of them attend one of the region’s universities. UT San Antonio continues to evolve from commuter school to full-fledged educational brand, complete with a football team and a hand sign.

While the mainstays continue to thrive (Trinity, Incarnate Word, Our Lady of the Lake), Alamo Colleges has plans for additional community college campuses including one just across the Bexar-Kendall County line. And we Longhorns shouldn’t necessarily forget the inroads Texas A&M-San Antonio is making on the city’s south side.

Beds (i.e., hotel beds)

Finally, tourism helped keep San Antonio afloat during the Great Recession. Families may have cancelled flying trips to Florida, Colorado or California, but they didn’t cancel their vacations altogether.

Many drove … to Texas’ number one tourism destination: San Antonio. Among the Alamo, the Riverwalk, Sea World, Six Flags, there is plenty here to put heads in hotel beds.

In the last letter he ever penned, Davy Crockett wrote, “Texas … is the garden spot of the world. The best land and the best prospects for health I ever saw, and I do believe it is a fortune to any man to come here.”

If not a fortune, at least a good life.

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.

1 Response to “What makes San Antonio prosper?”

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