By Alma Linda Manzanares
When Mayor Julián Castro spoke Tuesday to a packed room of South Side businesses and educators, he talked about the importance of investing in projects that link the education system with the city’s workforce needs.
About 200 representatives from local companies and organizations attended the event, sponsored by the South San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, in the Plaza Club of the Frost Bank Building at 100 W. Houston St.
Companies and organizations, with a stake in South Side development, included Brooks Development Authority, CPS Energy, San Antonio River Authority, Texas A&M-San Antonio, Palo Alto College, HOLT CAT, Southwest General Hospital and HDR Engineering.
Castro provided an update on the opportunities and challenges in the South Side, specifically the importance of education in helping spur development.
Castro, who grew up on the West and Northwest sides of San Antonio, said when he was growing up people did not think development would happen in the city’s southern sector.
“I know very well from growing up in this town that the knock on the South Side used to be that nothing would happen there,” he said. “I can tell you as mayor of this city, if you want to know where things are happening in 2013 and going forward, it’s happening in the South Side of San Antonio.”
He said the continued growth of A&M-San Antonio and Palo Alto, two higher-education institutions located in the southern sector of the city, provide a “wonderful step up for folks into the middle class and to reach their American dream.”
Castro said many students graduating from A&M-San Antonio and Palo Alto are credentialed and prepared for the jobs of this century, which are powering the city’s economic progress.
In July, A&M-San Antonio and Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Texas, Inc. presented scholarships in support of the study of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM, in collaboration with Palo Alto.
As far as economic investment in south Bexar county, Castro recalled the celebration of the 10th anniversary of Toyota’s manufacturing plant in October. He said during the celebration, Toyota rolled out the 1 millionth vehicle produced in the factory located on the South Side.
“I think that it was UT Longhorn-colored, so I know that pleased a whole bunch of the folks in the audience as well; except, the A&M people,” he said.
While the ceremony was a wonderful moment to reflect on the progress of the South, Castro said Toyota is just the “tip of the iceberg.” He said Nexolon America, LLC at Brooks is another success for the South Side.
According to a Dec. 14, 2012 press release by the city’s department of communications and public affairs, Nexolon planned to build a manufacturing facility at Brooks that would produce solar panels and create 404 manufacturing jobs at an average annual salary of more than $44,000 a year. The company invested over $115 million in a 10-year ground lease of approximately 86 acres on Brooks, and will also contribute $500,000 over five years to the Alamo Colleges for solar energy workforce training programs.
Another company taking interest in the development on the South Side is Carenet Healthcare Services, Castro said. The company is headquartered on the Northwest Side but has invested in 20,000-square-feet at Brooks to create jobs and provide new opportunities. “They did that because they recognize that the South Side is a great place to do business,” Castro said.
The activity of the Eagle Ford Shale was also addressed. Castro said the activity has “turned upside down” the economics of South Texas, including the South Side. It’s estimated by 2021 Eagle Ford Shale activity will have a $90 billion economic impact and more than 115,000 people will be employed in some manner.
“There’s no question that that activity is touching South San Antonio,” Castro said. “More homes going up; more businesses going up. Unfortunately, more traffic congestion on the roads.”
Another part of helping the city to link the education system with workforce needs is Pre-K 4 S.A. In November 2012, the initiative was passed and two centers in the city opened in August. One of the centers is located in the South Side down the street from Brooks City-Base.
Pre-K 4 S.A. was launched by Castro to improve the quality of preschool education by serving 22,400 local 4-year-olds over eight years. The initiative required approval from voters since it is funded by a one-eighth of a cent sales tax increase and state and federal funds.
Castro said the center is educating 300 4-year-olds who will one day have the opportunity to sit in the classrooms at A&M-San Antonio or another higher education institution.
He said there’s an opportunity to see those young students go through a school system in Harlandale, South San or San Antonio Independent School Districts, which will continue to become better and stronger so that those students can graduate and pursue their dreams.
“Folks living in South San Antonio or anywhere in the city can be assured that they can go through a pipeline where they will have the skills they need to fill one of those good jobs,” Castro said.
Asked for her reactions following Castro’s remarks, District 3 councilwoman Rebecca Viagran said connecting young students in Pre-K 4 S.A. to Palo Alto and A&M-San Antonio is important to have a skilled workforce.
“I believe education is a great equalizer and … what you see in this room is connections in education,” she said. “We have the connections from four years old, all the way up to graduating from Texas A&M University.”
Currently, Viagran said she is focused on the District 3 Legacy Leadership Initiative and working collaboratively with businesses in South San Antonio.
She said the leadership initiative focuses on leadership development for a group of 15 high school students in District 3. In December, a networking opportunity is being held for the students to “network with community leaders so they can see all the opportunities that District 3 has and the city has,” Viagran said.
She said she will continue to work collaboratively with businesses such as Brooks, A&M-San Antonio, HOLT CAT, and Toyota. “My focus is to really encourage economic development and workforce training in District 3,” Viagran said.
A&M-San Antonio President Maria Hernandez-Ferrier, also in attendance, said education is important in the South Side because it is one of the areas that has the highest dropout rates. She said connecting with 4-year-olds in Pre-K 4 S.A. will help increase graduation rates.
Ferrier said she thinks the university should send students to those pre-kindergarten classrooms and help mentor them through the school system. “We should be giving them jaguar pendants,” she said. “We should already have them thinking, ‘I’m going to college and I’m going to go to A&M-San Antonio.’”
Tom Shaw, president of the chamber, said education is important because with the growth of the South Side comes infrastructure needs. “If we don’t meet those infrastructure needs, we’re going to get run over by the train,” he said.
Shaw said a nightmare scenario is having to import a workforce to take the jobs that come with the growth of the South Side because young people are not properly credentialed and educated. “We need to make sure that the people who take these jobs, the people who benefit from this boom are the people from the South Side,” he said.