San Antonio was known as a booming cattle town in the 1800s but its prominence in this millennium is not based on head of steer but on the heads of major corporations that have established a presence here.
A city that long ago wiped the dust off its boots and began taking stock of the incredible array of human and natural potential within its boundaries, San Antonio has attracted big names in manufacturing such as Toyota, which has opened a sprawling campus, and Boeing. Known for its well-established air force bases, San Antonio is not only rich with history but is looking forward to maintaining its role as an economic force in the Southwest.
Its success is due in part to the organizations that have put programs to work in the last several years to foster a positive business environment. Among these entities is the San Antonio Economic Development Department (EDD), which has been the catalyst for shaping San Antonio’s future economy. Calling for change within a framework of flexibility and adaptation, EDD has equipped itself to be a main proponent for a thriving city, aggressively establishing an array of business assistance programs. This focus is contained in the city’s new Strategic Plan for Enhanced Economic Development, the blueprint for building a “new economy.”
Explains EDD Executive Director Ramiro Cavazos: “We see San Antonio as a city that strives to maintain a high quality of living. We’re an access city for new people and businesses.”
Air Force central
Named one of the top 10 tourist destinations in the U.S., San Antonio, a city of 1.3 million, is not a recent creation like Las Vegas or Phoenix, having been founded 400 years ago. San Antonio is a city that decided to own its future and grow at its own pace.
Becoming a center for military growth in the 1940s through the 1960s, the city’s two most prominent air force bases – Kelly and Brooks – have been transformed into fountains of innovation. The Brooks Development Authority has been responsible for bringing in industries that are complementary to the Air Force’s mission. Brooks is one of four active military bases; the others are Fort Sam Houston, Lackland AFB and Randolph AFB. These active bases provide employment to approximately 74,500 including active duty members, federal civilians and local guard/reserve members. These bases also provide an estimated direct economic impact of approximately $2.8 billion dollars to the local economy
Kelly Air Force Base has undergone a transformation into KellyUSA, a burgeoning industrial center. The former base, under the purview of the Greater Kelly Development Authority, has since become a center for the aerospace industry and, since 9/11, aircraft maintenance and overhaul. The vision for KellyUSA is to: (1) facilitate the establishment of an Inland Port San Antonio; (2) become the gateway to Central and South American businesses; (3) create an aviation overhaul and repair Center of Excellence, and (4) become a manufacturing center for San Antonio.
The Greater Kelly Development Authority (GKDA) also has a joint use agreement with the Air Force for use of the Kelly runway for commercial aviation operations, such as air cargo. KellyUSA’s physical infrastructure includes fiber optic cabling, broadband, and other modern amenities that emerging technology businesses demand. The presence of the Advanced Technology Center at KellyUSA provides businesses located there with world-class videoconferencing facilities and high-tech customized training, administered through the Alamo Community College District (ACCD) in partnership with the City of San Antonio.
San Antonio received a further boost in February of 2003 when Toyota announced that it had chosen a 2000-acre site there to build approximately 150,000 Tundra full-size trucks annually, beginning in 2006. The new plant represented an $800 million investment by Toyota and will bring 2,000 new jobs to Texas and indirectly create work for many more.
An advantage to the business owner in San Antonio – including affordable living costs and a low unemployment rate that is among the lowest in Texas and across the nation – is the city-controlled utility, the second largest publicly owned utility in the country, called City Public Service. “In the 1940s and 1950s the city made a smart decision in purchasing an energy company and making it a publicly owned institution,” Cavazos says. “The city also owns its water company, the San Antonio Water System. Both have been major components for economic development in that we are not captive to any utility company. It’s a big advantage.”
In addition to major transportation networks, including an international airport, San Antonio also can access the University of Texas at San Antonio, which supports the largest school of bio-engineering in the U.S.; the city donated $1 million toward the school’s construction, Cavazos notes.
On the lifestyle end, San Antonio has well-earned its position as a top tourism stop, combining historic sites – The Alamo – with a newer vibrant downtown, which features Market Square (El Mercado) fashioned after a Mexican open-air market and offering shops and restaurants, and scenic River Walk (Paseo del Rio).
Cavazos hopes people will see the benefits to San Antonio in the tourism attractions it offers, and then return a second time “to bring their business.”
Among the many manufacturing operations that call San Antonio home is Dixie Flag, producing a large array of custom flags and banners for myriad uses. The company was founded by Henry Van de Putte in 1958 as a company called Dixie Decorators and its first event was the Poteet, Texas Strawberry Festival. In 1974 Van de Putte opted to sell the decorating arm of the business while retaining the flag-production segment.
Current President Peter Van de Putte is the second generation to be working at the facility, although technically he really represents the third generation because his grandmother was the first flag seamstress. “We do a lot of work with festivals and special events,” he says. Last year his company produced all the banners for the NCAA final four; other clients have included Walt Disney productions, Fiesta San Antonio and ESPN X games. Even The Alamo flies Dixie-made flags. “Our manufacturing is limited to custom flags and banners, specialty flags that are very elaborate; it’s almost textile art,” Van de Putte says.
Among its current orders is one for a U.S. flag that will fly over the Mastercard Alamo Bowl, measuring 150 feet high by 300 feet long. The company also has designed a flag for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Measuring 60 feet high by 90 feet long, this flag will be flown on the George Washing Bridge that spans the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey.
San Antonio, Van de Putte attests, is a vital part of the company’s success, offering many great venues for Dixie Flag’s products. Van de Putte is very positive about San Antonio’s business environment. “Because a lot of what we do is special events related, it’s great to be here because there are many events in San Antonio. There is an enthusiastic work force and little turn over. It’s a great place to visit and live.”
Precision Manufacturing makes aircraft spare parts for the Department of Defense and was started 55 years ago by Edward Anderson. Current President Mary Hicks had worked for Anderson for 20 years and rose quickly through the ranks and eventually bought into the company.
In the past decades the company has expanded its operations to include sheet metal, presswork, fiberglass molding, rubber molding and plastic fabrication. It recently introduced massive CNC milling and other cutting-edge technological processes. Ranked as one of the highest quality prime military contractors in the nation, Precision can engineer and produce parts and assemblies in any quantity; can duplicate, modify and repair existing parts and also constructs dies, molds, fixtures, jigs or other tooling.
From Hicks’ perspective, there are many benefits to having a business based in San Antonio. “There’s an influx of good available people for work, and we’re coming forward with a new initiative to help Toyota and the other tier suppliers,” Hicks stresses.
Columbia 300 was founded as a Washington state plastics company that evolved into a manufacturer of bowling balls and was moved to San Antonio by its owner, a retired Air Force general.
Explains Vice President of Manufacturing Tony Franckowiak, the company was a major innovator and the first to use polyester in the production of the Columbia 300 bowling ball. At the time Columbia 300 was producing about 40 balls per day; its annual output now is one million balls in support of the country’s number one participation sport.
“There are technological changes all the time, more exotic materials to make the ball grip,” he explains. “Most balls are comprised of four to five pieces on the inside, all of different weights which help the bowlers with their hook. The outer shell is only about one inch thick.” The lightest balls produced weigh six pounds; the heaviest go up to 16 pounds.
The company’s newest product is called the Bully and was the result of a partnership with BASF to develop a custom urethane system designed specifically to fit today’s challenging conditions. Dubbed M80 the revolutionary formula “gives the reaction of particle without particle” and will hook in heavy oil and create more midlane with a smooth controllable break point.
This is the latest in the line of polyester and polyurethane bowling balls sold in all 50 states and in 30 countries, with Japan dominating as the largest foreign market since the 1970s. In addition the company produces a range of accessories, including the most popular line of bowling bags in the industry.
And what helps this company to thrive is its location in San Antonio. “We have a lower cost base overall, and a loyal workforce,” Franckowiak explains, adding that at one time the company had more than 80 employees with more than 25 years of service, and this past year celebrated its fifth employee with 40 years. “Everyone here has a good work ethic,” he notes.
Coilplus Texas was started in January of 2001 as the latest facility in the Metal One family of flat rolled steel service centers. Altogether, the company has 10 facilities in North America.
Once a part of Mitsubishi International Steel Inc., Coilplus’ first facility was in Athens, Ga. In 1988-89, two more sites were located in Ohio and Illinois, followed by Pennsylvania, the Texas site and then Jackson, Miss. In October of 2003 Mitsubishi merged its steel products segment with Nissho Iwai to form Metal One, which included four more service centers in Mexico, Canada and Ohio.
“We’re the interface between steel mills,” says General Manager Tom Prybyloski, explaining the company is a processor of flat-rolled sheet metal, taking a master coil and reprocessing it to customers’ specifications. Its main market is automotive, specifically to the supplier base, but it also sells direct to HVAC equipment manufacturers.
Coilplus chose San Antonio because of an existing relationship the company had built with an automotive supplier but it also saw that there was no real competition in the region. Seeing Mexico as an emerging economy was another reason for the location.
“We have a good support system with the Economic Development Department and the San Antonio Manufacturer’s Association, a grass roots effort to recruit and foster an interest in manufacturing.” These entities combined with the Texas Workforce Commission, which helps with staffing, are big advantages to starting a business in the city.
As far as lifestyle and other key factors, the city has no match, he adds. “San Antonio has one of the best up and coming biotech and medical industries and has an excellent school system, “ he adds. “It is still a very big, small town.”
For more information about locating a business to San Antonio visit the following:
City of San Antonio Economic Development Department, P.O. Box 839966, San Antonio, Texas, 78283-3966, Phone: 210-207-8080, www.sanantonio.gov/edd.
San Antonio Manufacturers Association, 9311 San Pedro, Suite 800, San Antonio, Texas 78216-4458, Bus: 210.979.7530