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Raub Report: The Austin-San Antonio Corridor

May 30, 2017

I think cities are like people in that each and every one of us has a unique personality, skills and experience. No two of us are alike, even brothers and sisters in the same family. How different is Dallas from Houston, albeit they are both large cities with close to 7 million populations and both in the great state of Texas? The Dallas bumper snicker says, “Keep Dallas Pretentious” while Houston is still the oil capital of the world with a huge manufacturing base. Now think of Austin and San Antonio as sister cities along a short stretch of Interstate 35 joining Central Texas to South Texas. Austin is the super attractive, energetic and hip, but, well, unrepentantly weird. Then, San Antonio, the other sister in the family, is attractive, but not quite as smart and hip, but with a very sweet, endearing traditional charm and very family oriented, and everyone likes her. Same family but different personalities. Can these two sisters ever really go into business together? Hmm.

In about 1980, Mayor Cisneros tried very hard to attract a computer consortium to San Antonio but we lost out to Austin. He then decided that Austin would win those competitions because of their high techness but San Antonio could do the manufacturing and thus was born the concept of the Austin-San Antonio Corridor. A popular book of 1982, “Megatrends” by John Naisbitt, named the Austin-San Antonio Corridor as one of key growth areas of the United States. There is no questions both cities are booming and growing together. The mid-cites don’t like the idea, but Schertz-Cibolo-New Braunfels are northern San Antonio, at least as part of the Statistical Metropolitan Area and Buda-Kyle-San Marcos are southern Austin. The fresh water meets the salt water somewhere south of the Prime Outlet Malls and the Creekside Town Center. Can these two cities ever blend into one Megapolis? Who knows?

A number of years ago I discussed with County Judge Nelson Wolf the possibility of the Florida Marlins relocating to San Antonio. One of his major points was that only if Austin joined with San Antonio would we have the mass of population needed to engage the TV and Radio media needed to make it work, as the media drives the revenues. We have to compete with Houston and Dallas for a share of the Texas media pie and only together do we have the mass. Recently, Red McCombs said the same, when he rejected that San Antonio should seek an AAA ball club. He was emphatic that SA and Austin needed to unite to bring in an MLB team instead of a lesser franchise. And then there is the discussion of a regional airport. Do we need a new one?

San Antonio lacks the direct connections and size, but Austin already has Bergstrom which is larger and can easily be expanded. Conclusion: we have a regional airport and it is already in Austin. Together, the Austin-San Antonio corridor could turn into something much more.

We like to trumpet that San Antonio is the 7th largest U.S. city and by one measure of population that is true but, sorry, it is not meaningful. Austin is within a few years of passing San Antonio in Metropolitan population, which counts all of the surrounding counties for both cities. Then, there is the GDP measure of a city’s actual productivity, the total of our goods and services produced. Where are we? Austin is #32 ($115B) and SA is #35 ($104.7B), with Sacramento and Nashville in between. Dallas is #5 ($504B) and Houston is #4 ($525B). Isn’t SA growing? Yes, but Austin is growing a bit faster. And our traffic is better. So, like every member of a family, San Antonio needs to be happy with who we are, to celebrate our unique talents, history and charm and to work hard to make our strengths even greater. Besides, I think being “weird” is highly overrated.

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