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Call center blues: San Antonio's slow start courting the creative class still stings

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In recent years there has been lots of buzz in San Antonio about education and lots of mention of the "creative class" and the "creative economy." But we've been talking about the future of our economy, and the search for high tech jobs, since the 1980s when Henry Cisneros was mayor. We saw occasional successes in getting tech firms — Control Data, Sony Microelectronics. But those firms, and their jobs, ended up failing or pulling out. And some local tech success stories, like Rackspace, have been obliged to look elsewhere for skilled employees.

What we did then, as we still do, is attempt to get other folks to bring their companies and their jobs here. But Cortright's first recommendation for cities in competing for talent is to "make people the focus of economic development." Just trying to lure jobs won't work. Just constructing new buildings or "mixed use developments," moving restaurants around town, or pressing for "development" and out-of-town investment dollars isn't going to suffice to reshape the local economy and make San Antonio competitive. What we need is a comprehensive long-term strategy to develop our people, and our opportunity. That strategy needs to be based on serious analysis of what kind of place San Antonio really is, not some feel-good announcement about the strength of the local economy or new call center jobs. Ultimately, it will have to be backed with a combination of serious public and private investment in people — not just buildings.•

Heywood Sanders teaches public administration and public policy at UTSA. His column appears monthly.

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