San Antonio Tech Leaders, Students Celebrate Reopening

The "Tech District Reboot Rally" at San Antonio's new Legacy Park last week hosted university representatives, students, public officials and executives from the downtown area's nearly 100 IT and cybersecurity firms.

San Antonio
(TNS) — About 1,300 techies geeked out in downtown San Antonio, gathering to celebrate a safe return to business as the COVID-19 pandemic — and the restrictions it spawned — continues to ease.

Their mood during the Thursday night event, however, was brighter than the current state of San Antonio's tech community.

Tech Bloc, an industry advocacy group, hosted the "Tech District Reboot Rally" at the new Legacy Park. The event served to effectively relaunch the technology hub that's growing around the intersection of Houston and Soledad streets.

"I've been dreaming of this day for a decade," said Rackspace Technology co-founder Graham Weston.

He told a story about an out-of-town tech executive who told him 10 years ago that he wouldn't move to San Antonio because the city lacked a start-up scene, a software developer community and great urban parks.

"And I can say that all of those things we have today," Weston said.

The outdoor get-together — and unofficial grand opening of Legacy Park near the new Frost Bank Tower and co-working space Geekdom — featured free barbecue and drinks. It felt like a pre-pandemic festival with some high-tech twists.

Nine-foot-tall dancing robots milled around as a small drone hovered over the crowd. A disc jockey played music as people, many sporting t-shirts or hats emblazoned with their tech firm's logos, brushed up on their networking and small-talk skills after a one-year hiatus.

JZ Garcia, 17, is part of the first graduating class at the Centers for Applied Science and Technology Tech high school, located downtown. She and several classmates stood among dignitaries that included Weston, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, University of Texas at San Antonio President Taylor Eighmy and various tech CEOs.

"It's a brand-new start," Garcia said. "And a whole generation, we're getting more together and into tech, and just improving our way of life."

In his remarks, Wolff noted downtown is home to nearly 100 information technology and cybersecurity firms — a sign the industry has grown in recent years.

Yet the pace of its growth has slowed over the last year, even though tech weathered the pandemic better than other industries, especially leisure and hospitality.

In Dice.com's latest quarterly employment report, San Antonio came in 33rd out of the top 50 cities nationwide for tech job postings. Austin, Dallas, Houston, Plano and Irving all landed in front of San Antonio.

San Antonio fell eight positions since the tech career website's last report.

Still, San Antonio saw a 33 percent increase in tech job postings, the fourth highest rate in the nation, from February to March. And Texas remains the number two state, behind California, for tech job growth.

The city, however, is struggling to attract out-of-state firms.

The San Antonio Economic Development Foundation said the area lost bids to land three tech companies in 2020. And a local company — which EDF officials did not identify — got out of its real estate leases to go remote permanently.

At least one firm, TaskUs, considered moving its corporate office to downtown San Antonio, but decided against it. Instead, the business process outsourcing company relocated its headquarters from California to New Braunfels in April.

Harry Bethancourt, 38, founder of a startup called Mingo Technologies, works out of Geekdom. He came to the rally with his friend, Heather Logan, 35, who works in e-commerce.

Bethancourt, who's lived in San Antonio for 25 years, said the rally had "a great mixture of all different types of folks."

Both he and Logan are excited about the burgeoning tech district.

"We need that, you know, relative to Austin, relative to Silicon Valley — it's going to bring a lot of money into our city," he said. "On top of that, it's going to diversify the city as well."

"I think we're perfect for it," Logan said. "We have the (military), student population, young families looking to get started, great cost of living, large town small city feel — it's perfect."

San Antonio's tech scene remains in the shadow of Austin's techtropolis. Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, Tesla and other companies, called Austin's supercharged growth a "mega-boom."

But San Antonio's tech boosters are dedicated to raising the city's profile for young professionals seeking a vibrant start-up scene with high-quality places to live, work and play.

At the event, Tech Bloc CEO David Heard announced a new website, SanAntonioTechDistrict.com, that includes an interactive map highlighting tech-related businesses, organizations and schools, as well as residential, entertainment and food options.

Heard said the website will help sell the city to both companies and tech workers considering a move to San Antonio.

"We achieved our fundamental and basic goal of the event, which was re-connection, face-to-face re-connection of our community — not on Zoom, not on conference calls, but finally in a place where we can share some experiences together," he said.

Charles Woodin, CEO of the startup-oriented Geekdom on West Houston Street, said he thinks the rally "was hopefully the beginning of what we look forward to now as the post-pandemic era."

After a bleak 2020, he said Geekdom's occupancy rate and new sign-ups are approaching 2019 numbers.

"It feels very different," he said. "And not only that, but I'm also seeing a lot of activity in the startup realm as well, which I think was laying dormant during the shutdown."

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