Advanced manufacturing, workforce development and international trade are becoming keys to enhancing San Antonio’s economic growth, Bexar County Judge Peter Sakai said in a June 12 address to the North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.

The setup

In a “State of Business” chat with chamber President and CEO Brett Finley, Sakai discussed his recent business trip to Japan and how that relates to local commercial growth. He also addresses the county’s ongoing efforts to help the San Antonio Spurs settle their home arena issue as well as secure potential long-range multimodal transit solutions, such as passenger rail.

Speaking at Grand Hyatt San Antonio, Sakai recalled his recent official visit to Japan, where he and fellow county officials talked with several Japanese governmental and business leaders. He said the trip was meant to help further raise San Antonio and Bexar County’s economic profiles in Asia.

There, Sakai said discussions included a focus on advanced manufacturing.

"We have manufacturing companies in Japan who are coming to see what San Antonio is all about,” Sakai said.

Sakai also said he and his colleagues engaged their Japanese hosts on cybersecurity both as a strong industry and the importance of securing companies' information technological infrastructure.

"I wanted them to make sure they understood that cybersecurity is part of the base of economic development in Bexar County,” Sakai said.

In the end, Sakai said he is hopeful that he, fellow county officials, and their government and commercial counterparts in Japan reached an understanding and consensus about further exploring and pursuing business opportunities not only in San Antonio but in the South Texas and northern Mexico regions.

Sakai added that he envisions San Antonio and Bexar County as a corner of a strong diamond-shaped commercial region involving Laredo, Corpus Christi and northern Mexico, primarily Monterrey, a larger metropolitan area that lies on Mexican Hwy. 85, an extension of I-35.

Zooming in

Sakai said manufacturing of a wide variety of products, from automobiles to solar panels, is an expanding industry in the San Antonio area. In May, the Bexar County Commissioners Court fielded a presentation on Toyota's planned $500 million expansion of the automaker's south side Tundra pickup assembly plant.

Great Britain-based heavy equipment maker JCB broke ground June 4 on a $500 million, 720,000-square-foot assembly factory on a 400-acre site on the south side. Launching operations in 2026, JCB’s new local plant will employ 1,500-plus people, and manufacture Loadall telescopic handlers—a type of forklift—and aerial access equipment as well asl have the space to expand and build other products in the future.

Sakai said global manufacturers, such as Toyota, JCB and Navistar—another recent newcomer to the area—aim to tap into an increasingly skilled local workforce developed through programs such as TX FAME (Texas Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education) and TX FAST (Texas

FAME Accelerated Skills Training)

Sakai said he learned during his Japanese trip about one company having to shut down a factory because of a local labor shortage. He said he responded by sharing details about private/public workforce development initiatives that exist in the San Antonio area.

Ultimately, Sakai said workforce development programs must revolve around the needs of specific industries.

"I want an employer-driven program. I want employers to tell us what they need,” he said.

Sakai said the surge of economic growth around the south and west sides of San Antonio, reflected by recent developments such as local indoor agriculture venture Soli Organic unveiling its most technologically advanced facility yet at mixed-used development Brooks, reflects an overall positive business environment.

“Business is booming,” he said.

What else?

Sakai at the chamber event also answered questions about efforts to develop high-speed rail in San Antonio. Sakai said he, along with many fellow local government and business leaders, want to see a comprehensive commuter rail system, particularly as an alternative to the increase of traditional vehicular traffic on corridors such as I-35.

However, Sakai said local leaders must approach the realization of high-speed rail inside San Antonio as well as linking the city with Austin and other Texas metropolitan areas in a slow, methodical way.

Sakai said leaders and other stakeholders in communities that could be affected by a commuter rail system must buy into such a transit system for it to even have a chance to get off the ground. He added local and state leaders should work together to try and secure available federal funding that could help support development of regional high-speed rail systems.

Sakai said a high-speed rail line linking San Antonio and Austin could succeed through collaboration between the two cities and the communities in between, and could both help to improve mobility and complement economic growth along the I-35 corridor.

Sakai said he envisions a San Antonio-Austin commuter rail line used by Spurs fans.

"I see the growth of commuter rail—whatever that is, however that happens—where people in Austin will come to Frost Bank Center to see Spurs games,” he said.

Regarding the Spurs, the team has a lease at Frost Bank Center into 2032. Sakai said San Antonio city leaders and Spurs officials must continue discussions on the team’s long-term future, whether it be at Frost Bank Center or a new arena elsewhere in town.

If the Spurs were to leave Frost Bank Center, Sakai said the county—which owns and maintains that east side facility—must commit to working with community stakeholders to ensure the venue remains a positive, viable place to do business and/or host community activities.

“I'd have to figure out how to repurpose the use of Frost Bank Center if and when the Spurs leave [for another facility],” Sakai said.

One more thing

Sakai also commented on public safety, saying he understands concerns fellow local leaders and constituents voiced in the wake of local violent encounters between repeat offenders and law enforcement officers last fall.

In response, county and San Antonio city officials worked together to form a public safety action plan to lower the risk of violent crime committed by repeat offenders. Sakai said county officials are looking at other ways to further crack down on crime, especially where repeat offenders are involved.

"The public is safe because we have elected and appointed officials who will to work together to keep you safe,” he added.