The Medical Center Area Regional Center is focused around the South Texas Medical Center, a major cluster of health care activities with 45 medical related institutions, including 12 hospitals and 5 specialty institutions. Healthcare is a major industry in the San Antonio region and employment in the industry accounts for nearly 15 percent of all employment in Bexar County. The Medical Center Area Regional Center accounts for approximately half of the health care jobs in the County. Education is also a major industry, as the Medical Center is home to the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, which includes 7 schools of healthcare, including dental, biomedical sciences, medical, health professions, nursing, pharmacy, and public health. Additionally, the Regional Center is also home to USAA, one of the City’s largest employers.
- The Medical Center Area Regional Center had 58,500 jobs in 2016. Employment in the area is anchored by health care, education, and professional services.
- Nearly 65 percent of employment in the Medical Center Area is in Healthcare and Social Assistance and Healthcare Education industries.
The major employers and health care education institutions in the Medical Center Area create a diversity of jobs available for people with all levels of experience and educational backgrounds. These employment opportunities have attracted a diverse, highly educated workforce and resident base. The center benefits from relatively balanced population and employment density, supporting a true mixture of uses in the area. The Medical Center Area benefits from the coordination of activities by the Medical Center Alliance with support from the San Antonio Medical Foundation. These entities help continue the mission of health care service, research and education within the South Texas Medical Center.
Despite a number of strengths, the area does have some economic weaknesses. The Medical Center Area lacks diversity of industries, with the majority of opportunities oriented to medical services. The area has a high reliance on access via automobile, and as the Regional Center continues to grow, traffic issues may decrease attractiveness of the area. There is a corresponding lack of non-automobile multimodal transportation options available to area residents, employees, and visitors. The retail and restaurant options are primarily convenience oriented, quick service options related to serving visitors and workers. The lack of diversity of uses not oriented to the medical facilities does not encourage people to come to the area other than for medical services or for work. The Medical Center Area also lacks public gathering spaces and has a low number of public parks and public amenities despite higher than average housing and employment density.
Commercial development activity within the Medical Center Area Regional Center has been primarily oriented to serving the growth of the major health care institutions. Retail development demand has been strong, as a result of the employment growth and a resurgence of housing development in the area. However, the retailer mix has been primarily convenience and quick service oriented, and the area would benefit from a fuller range of shopping and dining options. The area has had a steady growth of office space, however the majority of office space is older, often medical use oriented, and not attractive to new users. Much of the new employment oriented development space is within larger, single use facilities. The area needs an influx of more diverse and modern spaces to accommodate a greater variety of businesses. Additional office space is also needed to leverage and support potential economic spin-off activity from anchor institutions.
Recommendation #1:Support the promotion of health in the built environment within the Medical Center Area.
The Medical Center Regional Center has numerous health oriented businesses and institutions. However, the built environment, transportation systems, and existing uses do not reflect the healthy lifestyle championed by these businesses and institutions. Efforts have been made by the South Texas Medical Center Alliance and the San Antonio Medical Center Foundation, but additional support and investment is needed to make public areas, streets, and amenities a reflection of the health mission of the area.
Recommendation #2:Create a wider variety of uses, amenities, and attractions in the Medical Center Area to support and attract a greater diversity of residents, employees, and visitors.
The Medical Center Area has several large, stand-alone businesses and uses. Existing retail and service businesses supporting these employers are primarily convenience and quick service oriented, and cannot support the range of resident and employee needs in a major Regional Center. The area also lacks public spaces and amenities (trails, parks, etc.) on a scale that can support the employers and residents of the area and connect them to regional recreation opportunities.
Recommendation #3:Promote and support the growth of the Medical Center Area as a bio-science and health research-oriented innovation district.
The research and development activities in the Medical Center Area are significant. There are numerous entities engaged in developing new medical services and products. The area needs to better support the generation of new businesses and investment as a result of these activities. The existing office and employment spaces lack diversity in size and type, are aging, and are not supportive of the needs of smaller and start-up businesses or the workplace needs of modern companies.
Economic Challenges to Address
There are four main economic challenges in the Medical Center Area Regional Center:
- Diversifying the Economic Base: Creating a greater diversity of employers and industries in the area can help support its long-term economic success and help augment the medical related uses.
- Diversifying Uses and Amenities: Diversifying the variety of retail, public spaces, entertainment/enrichment opportunities, and services for residents and employees will create activity and interest in the area. Diversification of uses and amenities will support a large visitor base and give more reasons to residents, workers, and visitors to come and stay longer in the center.
- Providing Modern Workspaces: Creating opportunities for additional development (or redevelopment) of office and flex spaces will support new business creation and accommodate more modern workspace requirements.
- Promoting Health in the Built Environment: The area should reflect the Medical Center Area’s health care and wellness mission with a built environment that accommodates and encourages healthy lifestyle choices.
Based on the analysis of existing conditions and the assessment of strengths and weaknesses, target industries and economic opportunities were identified for the Medical Center Area Regional Center. The target industries and economic opportunities are meant to help organize the City’s economic geography and provide guidance on the role the Medical Center Area can play in the City’s overall economic development efforts. They also give direction to the City and its economic partners as to what areas are best suited for certain opportunities when they arise. The target industries and economic opportunities for the Medical Center Area Regional Center are:
- World Leading Medical Research and Education District – The Medical Center Area is already a national hub of medical research and education. The area has the opportunity to continue to grow into a model for health care districts.
- South Texas Medical and Bio-Science Innovation District – The medical and bio-science research activities in the Regional Center have generated numerous new ideas, products, and businesses. The continued support of these activities can be leveraged to generate an even greater amount and diversity of new innovations coming out of the area. The built environment can better support the growth of new and emerging businesses growing in the Medical Center Area.
- Live, Work, Play Center – The Medical Center Area Regional Center already has relatively high employment and population density. The mixture of employment and residential uses is balanced, however the uses are separated and auto-dependent. The area does not provide good connections between areas for work, home, and entertainment and lacks areas with a mixture of uses. The area can quickly evolve into a live, work, play center through investments and improvements that address these separations and barriers, as the needed uses area largely present.
Innovation is a major theme of the guiding policy documents for the City of San Antonio including SA Tomorrow and Forefront SA. The innovation economy is the connection of knowledge, technology, entrepreneurship, and innovation as a means to spur economic growth. The goal is to drive higher productivity and innovation. To do so, investments and policy interventions are needed to create partnerships between the public and private sectors to foster increased innovation. In order to understand the economic strengths and weaknesses of the Medical Center Area Regional Center in terms of fostering an environment that supports innovation, an innovation audit was completed to inventory and measure the attributes which contribute to this culture. The Medical Center Area Regional Center has many of the economic, physical and network assets needed to support innovation. There is a significant amount of research and development activity occurring both within the public and private sectors. The innovation audit results suggest that the Medical Center Area’s innovation focus should be to create places for workers, businesses, institutions and residents to interact both formally and informally. The area also needs to create a more walkable environment to support the existing population and employment density.