South Texas Triangle Op–Ed
3. The future of work in San Antonio: Nearly 1 in 6 residents contribute to these 2 industries
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3. The future of work in San Antonio: Nearly 1 in 6 residents contribute to these 2 industries

The future of work in San Antonio? Nearly 1 in 6 residents contribute to these 2 industries.

The preface of “Target ’90,” a 1983 San Antonio report envisioning the city’s future, boldly proclaimed, “Spirit of San Antonio Sets Tone for International Discussions.”

This headline, used for a fictional article showing what could be, encapsulated the collective ambition ignited by then-Mayor Henry Cisneros.

It vividly illustrated what Target ’90 could represent for the region — a beacon of progress and innovation.

In a similar vein, in 2010, then-Mayor Julián Castro launched SA2020, a transformative initiative aiming to make San Antonio the healthiest city in the nation, with access to quality education and economic opportunities for all by 2020.

Target ’90 and SA2020 shared a common thread — they delved into the future of jobs and skills, attempting to foresee how these crucial aspects of life in San Antonio would evolve over the coming decade.

As we reflect on these visionary plans, we can discern the remarkable progress and transformation that San Antonio has undergone in pursuit of these goals. However, it is also increasingly evident the policy frameworks outlined in these plans have faced formidable challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and the rapid advances of the information age. These disruptions will change the urban landscape, significantly affecting how we live, work and play.

Just as San Antonio has done, the Rio Grande Valley, Laredo and Corpus Christi also have set ambitious economic goals. They are key parts of the South Texas Triangle, a region home to millions of people that extends into northern Mexico and is integral to Texas’ economy and future. These cities have driven the South Texas region to evolve, harnessing strengths in border trade, manufacturing, agriculture and energy.

When discussing the South Texas Triangle, it’s imperative to acknowledge that the “international discussions” envisioned by Target ’90 are alive and well, giving rise to an economic mega-region that has thrived thanks to its proximity to Mexico and access to the Gulf Coast. This interaction between neighboring regions further underscores the ongoing evolution of the South Texas Triangle and its economic potential.

During the 1980s and 1990s, South Texas, especially San Antonio, had a diverse economy marked by a significant presence in the oil and energy sector, although it faced challenges due to the crash in oil prices.

Manufacturing, including automotive, electronics and aerospace industries, played a crucial role in diversifying the economy, as did the military presence, cross-border trade, health care, tourism and agriculture. 

The early 2000s saw rapid adoption of technology, leading to job opportunities in software development, cybersecurity and IT, bolstered by San Antonio’s military hub status. The health care sector also expanded through technology integration, while e-commerce and logistics further diversified the local economy, making San Antonio adaptable and resilient.

However, despite significant economic progress in San Antonio and the broader South Texas region, we grapple with an array of challenges, notably persistent job scarcity, income disparities and stark economic segregation.

These sobering realities were brought into sharp focus during the height of the pandemic when an iconic image, captured by San Antonio Express-News photographer William Luther, went viral worldwide and garnered mainstream media attention.

The image depicted an unending line of cars snaking their way through a San Antonio Food Bank distribution at Traders Village on the far West Side, a heart-wrenching scene that portrayed San Antonio as the epicenter of economic hardship in South-Central Texas, where thousands had lost their livelihoods, especially in sectors like the hospitality industry, and oil and gas.

While the Food Bank’s efforts were rightly celebrated, it was disheartening to witness San Antonio’s portrayal in the mainstream media — primarily focused on food insecurity and job shortages — casting a shadow over its immense economic potential.

Furthermore, San Antonio’s unsettling distinction as one of the most economically segregated cities in the United States, as underscored by recent nationwide studies, including the Pew Research Center's “Rise of Residential Segregation by Income,” raises urgent questions about the measures and initiatives needed to bridge these deeply entrenched divides.

When considering the future of work in San Antonio and South Texas, it’s crucial to acknowledge their remarkable growth trends and astonishing projections. U.S. census data indicate that Bexar County is on track to add 1.1 million new residents by 2040, bringing the region’s total population to about 3.8 million.

This demographic surge is a key driver of the ever-evolving employment landscape in the region. Rather than becoming overwhelmed, these statistics should serve as a call to action, motivating proactive efforts to address wealth disparity in our city and region. It’s time to act.

With the rise of technology and demographic shifts, San Antonio and the South Texas Triangle have a significant opportunity to prepare for the future of work. Three key areas are essential to transforming our future: attracting and recruiting emerging enterprises; equipping the workforce with reskilling and upskilling for Industry 4.0; and fostering regional collaboration and adaptation.

Emerging enterprises

San Antonio’s targeted recruitment efforts have yielded impressive results, attracting major players such as Boeing, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas, USAA and Valero, which have significantly bolstered local employment and contributed to the city’s economic growth.

According to greater: SATX, emerging sectors such as biotechnology and cybersecurity are experiencing rapid expansion, with nearly 1 in 6 San Antonians (approximately 187,000 people) already actively contributing to the burgeoning bioscience and health care industries. San Antonio boasts strategic advantages, including hosting the 16th Air Force for cyber operations and housing one of only four NSA cryptological centers nationally.

However, our endeavors to promote and nurture these emerging sectors have not reached their full potential. To fully capitalize on these emerging sectors, city leaders must demonstrate unwavering commitment to seizing long-term growth opportunities. We must make substantial investments in these industries, not just in terms of financial resources but also by creating a supportive ecosystem that nurtures innovation and entrepreneurship.

In our pursuit of growth, we should aggressively market our region as a hub for remote workers, recent graduates and those considering relocation. Collaboration should remain the linchpin of our strategy, with integrated business districts such as Geekdom downtown, Port San Antonio’s Tech Port Center and the Pearl District just north of downtown already setting a positive precedent.

To maximize our potential, we should replicate this success citywide, igniting innovation in various areas such as the Medical Center, VelocityTX on the East Side, the Commerce corridor on the West Side, the Blue Star Arts Complex on the South Side and the Rim district on the North Side. This network will shape our dynamic workforce and secure our city’s leadership in emerging industries.


The transformative wave of Industry 4.0 — also called the Fourth Industrial Revolution — is the next phase in the digitization of the manufacturing sector.

By 2025, the World Economic Forum predicts, half the workforce will need reskilling due to technological advancements. In five years, more than two-thirds of essential skills will shift, highlighting the importance of competency in emerging technology.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s 2020 initiative, Ready to Work SA, aspires to train thousands of residents by December 2025 — a goal I wholeheartedly endorse.

While training and educating community members in traditional trade skills remain essential and critically important, it’s equally crucial to invest in training for jobs that demand analytical thinking and innovation capabilities, particularly in areas such as cybersecurity and biotechnology. This alignment with the demands highlighted in the 2023 World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report is vital for our workforce.

To attract talent and businesses, we should establish apprenticeship programs that cultivate these skills, ensuring that job opportunities are readily available and recognizing that training alone won’t suffice without corresponding employment opportunities. 

This commitment is especially significant considering the ascendance of AI, quantum computing, green energy and cybersecurity. An exemplary model is CodeUp, a coding accelerator, with which the city could explore partnering. This proactive approach prepares our workforce for the future while addressing potential AI-induced workforce challenges, emphasizing the use of AI for job creation rather than competition.

Additionally, the SpaceX-led initiatives in Brownsville offer hope for a burgeoning space economy in South Texas, potentially reaching $1 trillion in revenue, as emphasized by former Brownsville Mayor Trey Mendez.

Notably, SpaceX, with approximately 1,700 employees — primarily local residents — at Starbase Texas, underscores the regional potential. Preparing the workforce for the space industry becomes crucial, with transferable skills poised to benefit various sectors in this dynamic landscape.

Regional collaboration

Collaboration and adaptability are crucial for advancing the South Texas Triangle’s economic agenda. Initiatives such as the South Texas Alliance of Cities and the Austin-San Antonio mega-metro efforts, often called “San Austonio” on social media, exemplify city leadership’s commitment to collaboration.

These joint efforts are essential in our evolving economic landscape, where urbanization processes intricately link economic development, production  and goods exports in Central-South Texas cities.

San Antonio and Austin, along with the broader South Texas region, share more in common than what separates them, highlighting the importance of a cooperative mindset. This approach enables us to comprehensively assess our cities’ economic activities and identifies opportunities for economic collaboration. For instance, it positions the region to leverage the nearshoring trend in North Mexico for mutual benefit.

When contemplating the future of work, I see San Antonio as the city of the future. It’s a place where people from diverse ethnicities and cultures have come together to collaborate, thrive and drive our city forward — an inspiring glimpse of what our nation could aim to become.

To address the challenges of a changing job landscape, we must strike a balance between our rich history and a steadfast vision for the future. My optimism stems from the belief that the cities within the South Texas Triangle region serve as catalysts for human advancement, and their dedication to openness, equality and diversity will greatly improve the prospects of the future workforce.

Beto Altamirano is CEO and co-founder of Irys, chairman and co-founder of the Better Futures Institute, and vice chair of the board of directors at Port San Antonio.

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