Leading SA: Interim President & CEO of San Antonio Chamber of Commerce discusses priorities, conversations with lawmakers

SAN ANTONIO – The Texas legislative session is now underway, and big decisions in the Capitol impact our finances.

Dave Peterson, the interim president and CEO of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, joined Leading SA to discuss their priorities and conversations with lawmakers.

“The main priorities for the chamber are economic development incentives. We need to ensure Texas stays competitive with other states that are bringing in big industries with great jobs. We also are very focused on workforce development. We hear from our businesses all the time that ensuring that we’ve got a ready and able workforce is critical to their success. Infrastructure investments can’t be ever let go of. Everybody that lives in San Antonio knows we have great needs and so we advocate for those. Military affairs is always on our agenda and will be again this year. Defense Economic Adjustment Assistance grants are grants that come to communities that house military, and we have a third of the state’s military here in the San Antonio area. So we focus on that. And then property tax relief. Businesses pay a significant section of the property taxes so both homeowners and businesses should benefit from the surplus that we’re hearing about at the state,” Peterson said.

The 88th legislature’s regular session began on Jan. 10, and the San Antonio Chamber was there on day one to have their priorities heard.

“We dropped our priorities off with each of our members of our delegation, and we tried to focus on the areas that they are involved in… we also try to find those that are supporters across the state. So we will make trips up to Austin frequently, and we’ll take a large group up on Feb. 28. We call it Viva San Antonio, where we take business leaders and community leaders up to Austin, and we fan out across the capital, and we engage in the different interest areas that we have everything from military affairs to water to energy, etc. across the legislature,” Peterson said.

Every session, the chamber does what it can to help shape policy that financially helps the Alamo City, and they have seen success in prior years.

“A couple of years ago had the bathroom bill that was going to limit the ability to get Final Fours and other type events just to the state. And so we’ve successfully defeated that. We’ve advocated for small businesses not to have to pay franchise tax on their payroll protection programs. And we’re successful in that. We’ve addressed some of the unintentional oversights and some of the necessary additions to the school finance reform bill that was passed during the 86th session, and that was called HB three. That was pretty landmark legislation, but still has some work to do in the area of infrastructure. We’ve worked on the Texas Mobility Fund, which has got a potential to generate an additional $3 billion for highways. And we’ve also advocated for a program that safeguarded the level one trauma center at Brooke Army Medical Center, which is one of only two for level one trauma centers here in San Antonio. So really across the spectrum, a lot of big successes. Some of them take years to accomplish, some go fairly quickly. So we will be engaged across the spectrum,” Peterson said.

As for our local economy, with the new year comes new optimism.

“We are very optimistic. We believe that conventions can come back and start really, you know, showing up in downtown like they did pre-pandemic. We’ve seen tourism rebound. We’re excited about that. We think that we’ve got a lot of opportunity in the space of the new elections for the elections this year for city council districts. So we’ll continue to work with the city council on those items that are business-friendly that they can work on. And then we’ll engage with our members and try to identify and address issues that they’re facing,” Peterson said.

For the Chamber, Peterson said there are big changes going on.

“We did a governance restructure. We took a look at our board and the way we were structured and went from 120 personal board down to a 15-member board with 120 personal board of investors. I think that’s going to give us a lot more ability to get things done quickly and be responsive, and have some better inputs going forward. We also did a strategic plan that has guided us for the next three years, and we are implementing that plan as we speak with lots of activity for us to drive those efforts that will capitalize on the work of the new governance. And then we’ve also done a brand refresh. We’re taking a look at how we’ve been out in the space and let people know what the chamber does for the community. And hopefully, that’ll bring a lot of goodwill as well,” Peterson said.

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