San Antonio Spurs Exports
The city of San Antonio recently announced an ambitious plan to triple exports, create more than 56,000 jobs and generally improve its global profile and to do all of it by 2025, or just about the time Tim Duncan finally retires from the hometown Spurs.
Interestingly enough, the plan—officially the “San Antonio Trade and Investment Strategy 2015”—which is based on data provided by Brookings and depends on a partnership between the city’s leading public and private economic development institutions, actually seems to follow the long-term model of success of the defending NBA championship, which along with the Alamo and riverside margaritas are the city’s most recognizable features. Not surprising since the Spurs’ success has been tied to the franchise’s willingness to embrace the “global game” long before the rest of the NBA.
So what can a basketball franchise teach a city about global economic success?
Diss satisfaction: Though they’ve won five titles in the last 15 years, Spurs coach Greg Popovich never allows his team to stand on success but, rather, demands his teams build on it. Likewise, San Antonio, which has seen exports grow at a rate of 6.8 percent annually between 2008-13, compared to just 2.4 percent for the rest of the U.S., decided those numbers could—wait for it—spur more growth.
When San Antonio mayor Ivy Taylor said that to become more globally competitive her city needed to “have a greater focus on promoting the benefits of exporting to local businesses and attracting more foreign direct investment,” she was saying that one road to success was to simply do more of what they already know works.
San Antonio is one of six pilot cities working on FDI strategy as part of the Global Cities Initiative, a joint-project of Brookings and JPMorgan Chase.
“It is vitally important for San Antonio to develop new strategies to expand our global competitiveness,” says Morris Camp, president of Chase in San Antonio. “Our city has tremendous potential in the global marketplace, and greater collaboration between our public and private sectors will accelerate our ability to compete.”
Embrace the new: The Spurs won those early championships from the inside, depending on the likes of big men Duncan and David Robinson. But the Spurs were one of the first NBA teams to realize that the game was changing to a much more global approach, one that favored an attack from the outside. Enter perimeter players such as France’s Tony Parker and Argentina’s Manu Ginobili that helped the team to four championships.
Likewise, San Antonio’s economy had for decades been dependent on the military, oil and healthcare. But now as it looks increasingly outside as a way to success, it looks to new industries. In fact, the new plan identifies sectors to be targeted by the city for growth, including bioscience, cybersecurity, cloud computing and new energy.
“From my experience chairing the Economic and Community Development Council Committee, and on economic development trips internationally, I know the six industries we have chosen to focus on have a growing demand around the world and will move our city forward,” says Ray Lopez, San Antonio’s District 6 Councilman and co-chair of the strategy’s steering committee.
Talent wins out: It’s all very well and good to have a plan and to think in new ways but, let’s face it if you don’t have the talent to carry it out you’re not making the playoffs or tripling exports. The Spurs were on the leading edge of scouting, signing and developing talent with the right skills whether they were homegrown in the states or from some other continent.
A big part of the new initiative is both developing and attracting the kind of skilled workforce needed to compete at the global level.
“In order for San Antonio to become more globally competitive … that strategy should include a greater emphasis on creating the skilled workforce local businesses need to compete globally,” says Mayor Taylor.
Part of that strategy is attracting skilled folks from elsewhere, something the city has done pretty well— witness its better-than-6-percent population growth since 2010. Part has been for the city as well as private interest to partner with local community colleges and universities to encourage and endow the kind of study and students the local economy will need going forward.
It also helps to have a quick, penetrating guard who can also knock down a three.
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