A Dynamic Leader Of The City Of The Alamo

Thursday, September 25, 2014 - 16:04

The Editor interviews Ivy R. Taylor, Mayor of San Antonio, Texas.

Editor: Tell us about your career and what motivated you to become Mayor of San Antonio.

Taylor: This certainly was an unexpected task for me since my true profession is that of an urban planner, holding a master’s degree in city planning from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I ended up in San Antonio through a summer internship where I met my husband, a native of the city. I commenced working for the City of San Antonio on inner-city development issues. I later worked at a nonprofit on affordable housing issues. Subsequently, some community members asked me to consider running for City Council, which I thought might be another interesting avenue inasmuch as I had an interest in bettering inner-city neighborhoods. I have been on the City Council since 2009. When our Mayor Julian Castro was recently tapped by President Obama to lead HUD in Washington, my colleagues selected me to fill the rest of his term.

Editor: Why does it make sense from a purely business standpoint for a foreign or out-of-state company to consider coming to San Antonio? What help and incentives are provided to corporations wishing to locate in San Antonio?

Taylor: San Antonio is definitely a wonderful place to do business. We did not have the kind of economic slump that other parts of the U.S. had during the recent downturn for a variety of reasons. We are a big city with 1.4 million people of very diverse backgrounds and many different companies with which to partner. Also, the city is very motivated to grow our present businesses and also to attract other businesses. We try to be creative in providing a variety of incentives for businesses, from tax breaks to location assistance to facilitating partnerships with the local educational institutions to customize training and workforce development that might be needed for any given company for their employees. We have several major universities here that assist with training. We have a low cost of living and a diversity of educational options, so San Antonio affords a great quality of life. All of these things make us attractive to businesses.

Editor: Do you have vocational programs at the universities?

Taylor: Yes, we do. In fact just before you called, I was engrossed in a conversation with a staffer at one of the universities about that subject. One of our local firms is actually working with the Chamber of Commerce on creating systems that allow more flexibility for practicums, internships and other features. What it amounts to is more career-type training than vocational training. We have a community college system as well as several universities that provide training opportunities. We also have some special programs that provide partnerships. In addition, some of our high schools provide teaming up with colleges where students can obtain associates degrees while they are working on their high school diplomas.

Editor: Beyond purely business considerations, what are some of the quality of life issues that contribute to making employees happy to move to San Antonio?

Taylor: First, we’ll start with the blessing that God has given us that we can’t take credit for – nice weather!  We have a warm climate where people can recreate outdoors for much of the year. We have a diversity of types of neighborhoods for folks that are seeking more of an inner-city lifestyle. Our downtown is really up-and-coming, with neighborhoods adjacent to the downtown. Going just fifteen minutes out of town makes you feel like you are in the Texas Hill Country!

We have a great linear park system that is centered around the San Antonio River and some of the other waterways here that we’re continuing to develop. We’ve got a major park in the suburban area called Phil Hardberger Park, named for a former mayor who championed purchasing an old, undeveloped dairy farm in the middle of suburban San Antonio.

Just last week I attended the grand opening of our brand new $200 million performance hall, The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, representing a partnership between the city and county. It has been turned into a world-class facility that will house our four-star San Antonio symphony and other groups.

We always like to celebrate here in San Antonio, so we have many cultural events going on year-round. We have a number of museums, including one art museum. We’re also in the midst of building a new children’s museum, which is not just for entertainment but has an educational focus. Another noteworthy museum is the Witte Museum, which  depicts the history and culture of South Texas. We have many activities that contribute to the richness of life.

Editor: What is the quality of the workforce?

Taylor: We are continuing to refine and improve the skills of our workforce as we try to keep up with the changing economy and needs of our employers. We’re starting to have many more conversations about how the educational system can work to create the finished product, meaning the individuals who have been trained with the skill sets that our employers need. I would definitely say that this is a work in progress, but that we have many assets here that can help us. We have UTSA (University of Texas at San Antonio), which is on its way to being a tier-one university. We also have Texas A&M San Antonio as well as several private colleges, including the University of the Incarnate Word, Trinity University, Our Lady of the Lake and Saint Mary’s. We definitely have a strong network for training our workforce. We’re just improving our communication systems – all of that on top of the community college system.

Editor: What steps are being taken to encourage start-up companies?

Taylor: We’ve got a unique model that the City is most supportive of called “Geekdom.” A low-cost office space has been created for people who may have other jobs or are in school but want to spend focused time developing a concept or a business, making them part of a community of entrepreneurs. The other dynamic is the recent initiative called Café Commerce, a carve-out of space in our downtown public library. City staff is allocated specifically to nurture entrepreneurship here and provide the assistance needed for small businesses to grow. It amounts to a one-stop shop where aspiring entrepreneurs can go and get information about training, finance, business plans and strategic planning to grow their businesses.

Editor: Are major projects underway or planned that will contribute in significant ways to the City?

Taylor: One of the major projects that I have been working on is a comprehensive community revitalization project on our City’s east side, the EastPoint/Promise Zone Project. Just like every other major American city, we have parts of town that have not been thriving when the rest of the City has. We have worked diligently to develop very strong partnerships, and we have gotten the support at the federal government level with a $55 million grant. We are focused on three areas: one, transforming the nature of the outcomes related to public education starting with the middle school and the elementary schools; second, radically transforming the housing in the area, entailing tearing down old public housing and rebuilding new mixed-income housing; and third, focusing on economic development in the major commercial corridors in that area and seeing how we can improve not only their appearance but also how we can bring more businesses into the area to employ people.

Editor: Is there anything more I should ask you that I have not asked you that you would like to add to this interview?

Taylor: We’ve hit a lot of the highlights about our wonderful City. I think San Antonio is a great place to live. I’m excited that it’s my adopted hometown and that we’ve got a woman in the mayor’s seat again. We haven’t had that in a little while. I also think it speaks to our spirit of inclusiveness that as an African-American woman, I’ve been so well embraced as the mayor of a city that’s over 60 percent Latino.