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Highlight: Guest Column - SAGE Leading Economic Development in San Antonio’s Promise Zone

March 2015 Newsletter

Jackie Gorman, San Antonio for Growth on the East Side (SAGE) Executive Director

Jackie Gorman, Executive Director
San Antonio for Growth on the Eastside (SAGE)

As executive director of San Antonio for Growth on the Eastside (SAGE), I’m working in what you could describe as economic development petri dish: an intensive experiment in community revitalization in the newly designated federal Promise Zone on San Antonio’s Eastside.  A subset of our Promise Zone is known as EastPoint. Eastpoint is the only area in the country to receive a Department of Education Promise Neighborhood grant, a Choice Neighborhood Grant from the Department of Housing & Urban Development, and Byrne Criminal Justice grants from the Department of Justice.

SAGE is leading the economic development elements of a highly focused effort to see if an integrated approach combining housing, education and economic development initiatives can significantly improve the quality of life in what has been an economically distressed and underserved community. It is the type of work that on most days I experience both the intense frustration and the very real sense of satisfaction that change brings to a community – a challenging environment, but one where I can drive down the street and see the results of our efforts.

But as clear as my focus is today, my road to a career in economic development was a long one. After participating in ROTC at the University of Michigan, I signed on with the Army as a military intelligence officer.  When I completed my commitment, I joined Procter & Gamble, selling Tide, and quickly realized that I needed a career in which I could know that I was making a difference in the community.

I moved closer to that goal working for a national homebuilder, developing communities in New Orleans and Las Vegas, mentoring minority- and women-owned contractors for the Texas Department of Transportation and then leading career development programs for the Texas A&M University System in San Antonio.

All of things I learned along my career path came together in my economic development role at SAGE, which serves as a champion and a resource to help Eastside businesses expand and grow and to bring new businesses to the Eastside. Our work combines elements of workforce development, mentoring of entrepreneurs, and encouraging and supporting development. Our economic development efforts succeed when they empower the community to be its best, allowing local businesses to participate in bringing about positive change.

At SAGE, I’ve learned that this type of success comes when we leverage our resources and develop partnerships that allow us to do more than we could alone. The federal Promise Zone designation has brought not only attention to efforts to revitalize the Eastside, but additional funding and support from federal agencies and a variety of other partners.

Our partnership with the Economic Development Administration includes a $500,000 grant awarded late last year that is supporting our work to develop an EastPoint Promise Zone economic development strategy, and to implement initiatives identified within the plan. The goal is to provide a roadmap for catalytic development that will create jobs and provide opportunities for growth for existing and new businesses.

Specifically, we are using the funding to identify opportunities, supported with economic feasibility scenarios, for developing mixed-use, transit-oriented development projects within the Promise Zone. The focus in on formulating and implementing an economic development program that puts in place systematic efforts to reduce unemployment and increase incomes.

New partnerships such as this are allowing us to build on existing grant programs, funded by the City of San Antonio and corporate partners, which support efforts to bring businesses to the Eastside, and provide matching dollars to business owners working to make façade improvements, helping to revitalize key commercial corridors.

A new collaboration with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Community Economic Development Program helped establish the SAGE Equity Fund, which operates like a venture capital fund targeting the Eastside Promise Zone. Last month we announced our first equity investment in a business that will be expanding and relocating to the Eastside.

Another new partnership with the National Development Council’s Grow America Fund and with local banks allowed us to create the SAGE Grow Eastside Fund, a loan program for existing small businesses looking to move to or expand with the Promise Zone.

By working with our partners, we’ve been able to create a toolkit of economic development programs that we are applying based on the specific needs of each business we support. Creating strong partnerships, we have learned, is the most important tool of economic development.