San Antonio is growing at a dizzying pace, with a booming population and a lively, diversified economy that relies not only on the military, but also energy, tourism, finance and technology. Poised to add nearly 30,000 jobs this year, the city is swaggering while the rest of the country is still getting back on its feet.
Local entrepreneur Kyle Gish reckons the San Antonio Small Business Development Center has much to do with the city's metamorphosis. "The SBDC has been a darn good vehicle for growth," he says, noting it played a major role in transforming his company from a backroom air filter distributor to a multimillion-dollar enterprise with more than 20,000 square feet of warehouse space in San Antonio and Houston.
Gish, a former navy pilot, had limited business experience when he inherited his father's firm, called Dustless Air Filter. So he enrolled in the center's "Building Business Excellence" program—designed for companies that have hit a growth ceiling. The months-long course brought Gish up to speed on topics ranging from leadership to financial literacy.
And a well-connected advisor hooked him up with an SBA lender, who supplied $1.3 million in working capital. Gish used the funds to open warehouses and add capacity to his distribution business.
"This SBDC is like a concierge service for businesses," he says. "It's phenomenal."
Affiliated with the University of Texas in San Antonio, the center caters to businesses across a large swath of land near the Southwestern border of Texas. Naturally, it specializes in cross-border trade and boasts access to the International Trade Center, which was created to serve all chapters in the South-West Texas Border SBDC network. Housed in the same university building as the San Antonio SBDC, it is the largest trade assistance center of its kind in the country.
"Who are the buyers in a particular country? What kind of tariffs are you facing? What are the regulations involved?" says Doug Smith, the trade center's assistant director. "We help business owners tackle all those issues."
Smith, who has helped companies export goods ranging from construction material to dried lentils, says the trade center spent more than 5,000 hours consulting businesses and accounted for $81 million in exported goods last year.
In a throwback to the missions of old San Antonio, staffers helped the Mexican government set up SBDCs south of the border, where there are now more than 90 chapters. The idea is to work with SBDC counterparts in Latin America to help connect—and facilitate trade between—companies on either side of the border.
In addition to trade, the SBDC's advisors are well-versed in government contracting, veteran assistance programs and a host of other areas, says director Morrison Woods.