The UTSA Area Regional Center has a mixed employment base with several large businesses and institutions, and it has one of the largest average firm (business) sizes of the City’s regional centers. The area is a major commercial hub with two large, regional shopping centers, The RIM Shopping Center and The Shops at La Cantera. The area is a major entertainment and hospitality hub anchored by Six Flags Fiesta Texas. The UTSA Area is also home to major corporate headquarters including Security Services Federal Credit Union, NuStar Energy, and the Valero Energy Corporation which is a Fortune 500 company and the world’s largest independent petroleum refinery. Lastly, the area’s namesake and major anchor is the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA).
- The UTSA Area Regional Center had close to 39,400 jobs in 2016.
- The largest industries are manufacturing, retail trade, accommodations and food service, and education.
The UTSA Area Regional Center has many economic assets. As a major retail and entertainment destination, the UTSA Area draws in visitors from the region and nationally. Corporate headquarters located in the area are a major attraction for businesses and prospective residents. As a result of the existing businesses and major retail/entertainment destinations, there has been ample new development of office space in the area, and the area has plenty of land for development to support future economic growth. The high educational attainment of residents and the presence of the UTSA Campus are attractive to businesses looking to locate near a talented workforce.
The UTSA Area does have some economic weaknesses to be addressed. The area is heavily dependent on larger employers and lacks variety of employer sizes and types. The UTSA Area is split by both Loop 1604 Loop and I-10. The result is four distinct quadrants, with major highways impeding connections between the various employment nodes. The university and major office users are primarily located in isolated campuses and there is little connection between employers, or opportunity for interaction between the workers, residents, and students. Lastly, the UTSA Area lacks organizations that coordinate business activities and interactions between workers. The Northside Chamber and UTSA serve in this facilitation but are not focused solely on the area or overall economic community.
Economic Challenges to Address
The UTSA Area Regional Center is still developing and has opportunity to shift quickly to address emerging needs and opportunities. In addition, there is strong market demand for and growth of employment uses. As a result, there are a few major challenges for the area. The two main economic development challenges in the UTSA Area Regional Center are:
- Diversify the Types and Size of Employers: The area lacks small and medium size businesses, as the area’s employment base is dominated by large employers and national chain retailers. Focus is needed to help support the creation and attraction of smaller businesses to continue to spur economic activity in the area.
- Mixed-Use Nodes: The employment uses in the Regional Center are mostly isolated and separated from each other, and there are only a few areas where a mixture of workers and residents exists. The four quadrants of the Regional Center should each have a mixed-use focal point that supports a more diverse and interconnected land use pattern and provides walkable and bikeable destinations for residents and employees.
Based on the analysis of existing conditions and the assessment of strengths and weaknesses, target industries and economic opportunities were identified for the UTSA Area. The target industries and economic opportunities are meant to help organize the City’s economic geography and provide guidance on the role the UTSA Area might play in the City’s overall efforts. They also give direction to the City and its economic partners as to what areas are best suited for certain opportunities when they arise. The target industries and economic opportunities for the UTSA Area Regional Center are:
- UTSA as an Anchor: The UTSA Campus is a major economic asset and has the potential to generate additional economic activity and investment. The university’s presence needs to grow within the Regional Center, and greater connectivity between the private business areas and the university are needed to better leverage the research activities on campus and to connect students to job opportunities.
- Retail and Entertainment Destination:The UTSA Area Regional Center is a major destination for shopping and entertainment. The critical mass and appeal of the area can help drive additional attraction of retail, entertainment, and hospitality uses and continue to grow visitation and activity in the area.
- Live, Work, Play: The Regional Center includes a significant amount of undeveloped land, as well as sites such as Beckmann Quarry that are likely to be redeveloped in the coming decades. This capacity for development carries the potential to create vibrant, connected focus areas that are more conducive to a live, work, play environment.
Innovation is a major theme of the guiding policy documents for the City of San Antonio, including SA Tomorrow and Forefront SA. The innovation economy is the connection of knowledge, technology, entrepreneurship, and innovation as a means of spurring economic growth. The goal is to drive higher productivity and innovation. To do so, investments and policy interventions are needed to create partnerships between the public and private sector to foster increased innovation.
In order to understand the economic strengths and weaknesses of the UTSA Area Regional Center in terms of fostering an environment that supports innovation, an innovation audit was completed to inventory and measure the attributes which contribute to this culture. The UTSA Area Regional Center has a major anchor with the university and its diverse array of research activities. The area also has a high concentration of educated residents, in addition to the student population, which is attractive to new and growing businesses. The innovation audit found that the built environment in the UTSA Area can better support innovation stemming from UTSA by helping to blur the lines between the campus and private businesses physically, and also socially. Opportunities to integrate campus research activities in areas where private business is located can help draw attention to these efforts and attract investment. As well, increased social connections for researchers, businesses, workers, students and residents can help spur greater connectivity and new ideas and products.