Editor’s Note: The following is City Scrapes, a column of opinion and analysis.
Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons
On January 28, 2010, Mayor Julián Castro made a big announcement during his first State of the City address to the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and its crowd.
“I believe that 2010 marks the beginning of the decade of San Antonio,” Castro began. “This is the decade that we will emerge as an economic powerhouse across the nation, across the world.”
A few minutes deeper into his speech, Castro was more specific about how the center city would play into his vision: “[I] believe that this decade, these next 10 years will be the Decade of Downtown.”
And while the mayor touted the planned, ultimately abortive, downtown streetcar and the redevelopment of Hemisfair, he was very specific about jobs, promising “that every time we have the potential to bring in a new employer to San Antonio or to grow jobs from within, they think about the 281 corridor and they think about Westover Hills, they think about the I-10 corridor and other parts of our city, but they also seriously consider investing in downtown San Antonio.”
So now as we hit the 10-year mark from the date of that speech, it seems a fitting time to ask where we are, how well the “decade of downtown” has been realized, and where those jobs have actually gone.
The U. S. Census Bureau’s annual County Business Patterns report breaks out private employment totals by ZIP code, and the most recent report, for 2017, came out in late November. For the primary downtown ZIP, 78205, the employment total was 27,191. And that did indeed represent an increase from 2010, as the national economy was beginning to recover from the effects of the 2008 recession.
But the 2010 employment total was 25,703, so the increase over ten years was just 5.8%. Even more striking is the view from the middle of the 1990s. In 1996, ZIP 78205 had 26,447 private jobs.
The takeaway there is that downtown’s private employment has barely changed over two decades, despite a host of public projects and investments.
Indeed, compared to downtowns of other big Texas cities, our performance was pretty poor. Downtown Dallas’ 75201 ZIP started out far bigger than ours, with more than 54,000 jobs in 2010. By 2017, it had grown to 76,990 — a 40.9% increase. Downtown Houston’s 77002 ZIP began the decade with more than 84,000 jobs and managed to grow by 8.9%, despite the vagaries of the oil business. And ZIP 78701 in downtown Austin grew from fewer than 42,000 jobs in 2010 to more than 62,000 in 2017 — dramatic growth of 48.7%.
Mayor Castro specifically noted the U.S. Highway 281 corridor, the I-10 corridor and Westover Hills. So how did job growth there compare to the anemic performance downtown?
The north side 78216 ZIP, bisected by 281 from Basse to Bitters, has always been a major employment center, holding more than 48,000 jobs in 2010. By 2017 that had grown to 60,290, a 24.5%. Farther out 281 and north of Loop 1604, ZIP 78259 grew by 35.8% hitting nearly 7,200 jobs.
On the I-10 corridor north of Loop 410, the 78230 area saw growth of 13.5% to more than 25,000 jobs. And north of 1604, the 78257 ZIP area, including the Rim, grew by an impressive 80.6% to more than 12,300 employees.
Finally, the Westover Hills ZIP code of 78251 grew by 49.3% from 2010 to 2017, hitting employment of 29,771 — more than the downtown ZIP in 2017.
The full verdict on the “decade of downtown” isn’t complete quite yet. Employment numbers have obviously grown — just not downtown. And while it’s not clear San Antonio has emerged as an “economic powerhouse,” it is evident that we’ve continued to build a widely dispersed “spread city,” one where the new jobs and new opportunities are miles from our historic center and older neighborhoods.
Heywood Sanders is a professor of public policy at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
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