Where do we fit in? Mayor Nirenberg and the City Council always make a point that “San Antonio is the Seventh Largest City in the U.S.” Well, sort of. At a population of approximately 1.5-million this puts us in line behind New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, and Philadelphia and just ahead of San Diego and Dallas. My chest swells with pride. Wait a minute! SA is larger than Big D? How can that be? Depends on what you are measuring. Our Fair City happens to have a large land area compared to other cities, like Dallas, that are hemmed in by smaller urban and suburban cities. In this measurement, local populations that are left out include Alamo Heights, Olmos Park, Castle Hills, and Hollywood Park, etc. which are outside the city limits of San Antonio. Dallas does not include Highland Park, Farmers Branch, Richardson, etc.
So, while comparing city populations makes for interesting bragging rights, instead I would suggest that the Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area (SMSA) as a better measure. For us, that is an eight county area including Bexar, Comal, Kendall, Medina, Bandera, Guadalupe, Wilson, and Atascosa. This is the region we all think of as “San Antonio.” We butt up to Austin’s SMSA which extends from San Marcus to Georgetown to Leander. Dallas is really the Metroplex of DFW, which covers 12 counties and totals over 6-million souls. Houston is 5.6-million, San Antonio is 2.2-million and Austin 2.1-million. The population of City of San Antonio is 1.5-million, or 80% of the SMSA, while the city of Dallas is 1.3-million or 22% of their SMSA.
Apologize for all the details, but I think we should be honest with ourselves and measure what is important, not just what makes us feel good.
Now another really meaningful measure of comparison for cities is their Gross Domestic Product which measures the true economic strength of a metropolitan area. For that we can go to the list from the U.S. Commerce Dept. in Wikipedia “List of U.S. Cities by GDP” and there we see our metropolitan area’s GDP is nearly $109-Billion as of 2016, making us 35th in the U.S. I am sorry, but 35 is a whole lot lower than 7. This means we are actually two notches below the Austin-San Marcos metro which weighs in as 32nd at $120-billion. Sacramento and Nashville are in between, larger than S.A. and smaller than Austin. So, Austin has fewer people but a greater economic output, by 10%. And they are growing faster, thereby pulling further ahead of the Alamo City.
So, I am concerned when we talk about our great outreach for new business and new jobs but we bow out of the competition for Amazon’s HQ2, and the GOP Convention. We are falling behind Austin in Convention business, too. We can’t get our act together to build a stadium for an AAA Baseball club, and we got stiffed by the MLS for a soccer expansion team; Austin bettered us on that one, too. Regional Airport? Austin Bergstrom – with room to expand. Lots of San Antonio people already go to Austin to fly from there, but no one from Austin flies out of SA. Instead of touting we are “Number 7 in the U.S.” we need to recognize that we are really the fourth Metropolitan area in Texas, behind Dallas, Houston, and Austin. Hurts a little but Life teaches us, you can’t move forward until you know where you are, and which direction you are facing.