Greater San Marcos Region Transforms into Texas Innovation Corridor

April 6, 2018
Research underway at Texas State University is contributing to the region's innovation focus.

A few days after returning from Washington, D.C., for the Coalition for a Prosperous America conference and legislative visits, I traveled to San Marcos, Texas, as the guest of the Greater San Marcos Partnership (GSMP). The Greater San Marcos Partnership is the economic development group representing Hays and Caldwell counties as a region. San Marcos is strategically located midway between the two major metros of Austin and San Antonio in the beautiful hill country of central Texas. The region is home to a number of other rapidly growing cities, including Kyle and Dripping Springs in Hays County, and Lockhart and Luling in Caldwell County.

I have had a personal connection to San Marcos as my sister lived there for many years, and it is where her youngest son was born. The view of the hill above San Marcos’ downtown square is dominated by the campus of Texas State University, only a few blocks away, but during my trip I later learned the region is so much more than a college town. My sister actually worked at the university when she first moved to San Marcos. Dr. Denise Trauth, president of Texas State University, is also chair of the GSMP board of directors, and Adriana Cruz is president of GSMP.

The 2017 Greater San Marcos Partnership annual report states, “It’s no longer a secret — Greater San Marcos is among the most promising regions in the nation. Hailed by Forbes as ‘America’s Next Great Metropolis’ and ranked among Thrillist’s list of ‘America’s Best Small Cities to Move to Before They Get Too Popular,’ Greater San Marcos is increasingly being recognized by the national media, talent and corporate executives as a region to watch.”

The report explains that GSMP “continues to serve as a change agent for smart and purposeful economic growth in the two-county region known as the Innovation Corridor…from welcoming new employers and job creation programs to working major projects and garnering national media placements.”

Compared to the other metropolitan areas of Texas, the greater San Marcos area still offers affordable homes (nearly 40% less in housing than Austin), as well as a large and dynamic workforce. Each town in the region offers its own unique assets and charms, which provide a strong force in attracting new jobs and investment.

When I met with Cruz, she said, “A major driver of this progress has been our laser focus on executing the strategies laid out by Vision 2020, a five-year strategic plan to drive economic development in the region, established in fiscal year 2015…For example, 2017 was the first full year of utilizing the Vision 2020 implementation work groups — stakeholder groups that work collectively to maximize the region’s biggest strengths and tackle some of our existing weaknesses in key areas such as infrastructure, workforce and higher education and destination appeal.”

From the annual report, I also learned “San Marcos, together with Austin, College Station, Fredericksburg, New Braunfels and San Antonio, was selected by the U.S. government to host an exclusive innovation and entrepreneurship event, which brought decision-makers from more than 20 countries to San Marcos to explore partnerships and economic development opportunities. Through the 7th Americas Competitiveness Exchange on Innovation and Entrepreneurship (ACE), Greater San Marcos worked with our neighboring cities to share best practices with this influential international audience and to promote the larger Central Texas region as a leader in innovation. The Greater San Marcos portion of the tour included a visit with many of our major employers, a tour of Texas State University and STAR One and a Glass Bottom Boat Tour at The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment.”

Texas ranks second in the 2018 Small Business Policy Index by the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council for not charging a corporate or individual income tax or capital gains tax, in addition to having low gas taxes and workers’ compensation tax. Here are other key facts about the region:

  • 1.3 million talent pool within a 45-mile radius
  • 66,087 population ages 25-44
  • 34% of adults have a bachelor’s degree or higher
  • The high school graduation rate for Hays County is 89% and 90% for Caldwell County
  • Only 12% of adults are without a high school diploma

The top 10 manufacturers in Hays and Caldwell Counties are:

CFAN700Composite fan blades for GE engines
Philips Lighting369LED lights for outdoor structures & areas
Thermon Mfg.345Electric heating cables and control systems
Epic Piping260Pipe fabrication including carbon steel, chrome moly, stainless steels, duplex steels, nickel-based alloys
Heldenfels Enterprises170Precast/prestressed concrete structures
UTC Aerospace Systems160Engine casing and aftermarket support for Boeing 787 and Airbus A350

Concrete production

Altra Couplings95Industrial couplings
Mensor Corp.80Precision measuring instruments and automatic pressure test and calibration equipment
Hunter Industries75Hot mix asphalt

When we visited Texas State University, I realized that the research being done at the university is contributing greatly to the region transforming into the Innovation Corridor of Texas. In 2012, the university was designated as an emerging research institution, working on semiconductors, 3D printing and composite material. This opened the door to major research funding, global research talent, and has contributed to a spike in patent filing activity in Hays County.

I had the great pleasure of being given a tour of the Roy F. Mitte building that houses the material science, engineer, and commercialization (MSEC) program by Dr. Thomas H. Myers, associate dean of MSEC. Myers happened to be home on a break from a year-long sabbatical in Spain. We were joined by Dr. Jennifer Irvin, director of MSEC, and Dr. Andy Batey, associate professor and chair of the department of engineering technology.

The purpose of the MSEC program is “to train graduate scientists and engineers to perform interdisciplinary research while equipping them to emerge as effective entrepreneurial leadership the advancement of 21st century global discovery and innovation.”

We walked through several labs focusing on different kinds of materials research, such as the semiconductor and solar cell materials lab. Myers said, “We work with companies like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp., Texas Instruments and First Solar to do materials research. Students, faculty and industry work together on multiyear, multicompany contracts to solve problems. We started a Ph.D. program in 2012 to help students and faculty be able to commercialize technology. We have graduated about 30 students from the three-year program. We are not a department, but a program within the department of engineering technology. Students are required to work on important projects, such as purifying water from fracking.”

Myers said, “We have two levels of clean rooms, a Class 10 and Class 100, and we are working to teach semiconductor manufacturing and the fundamentals of making a device, which is greatly appreciated by the semiconductor industry in Austin.”

When we walked through the machine shop that contained manual, CNC controlled machines and a 5-axis machining center, Batey explained, “We want our students to get hands-on experience in traditional industries during their four-year engineering technology degree program. Engineering technology degrees focus on the planning, fabrication, production, assembly, testing, and maintenance of products and services. We offer degree programs in electrical engineering, manufacturing engineering, mechanical engineering, environmental engineering, and civil engineering.

As we walked through the construction materials lab, Batey said, “We also offer a B.S. degree with a major in construction science and management and concrete industry management. We can do chemical analysis of construction materials and concrete in our lab. We are also one of only two universities in Texas to have a teaching foundry for metallurgy, which has been certified since 1990, and there are only 20 in the whole U.S.”

Irvin said, “Texas State University also has a 58-acre site off-campus science, technology, and advanced research park (STAR Park), which is dedicated to the university’s research and commercialization efforts. The 36,000-square-foot facility serves as a technology incubator for start-up and early-stage businesses, and provides tenants access to secure wet labs, clean space, conference rooms and office space. Since 2014, companies located in STAR Park have created over 60 jobs, funded over $1.5 million in university research, hired 14 Texas State graduates, and raised more than $32 million through equity and strategic alliance investments.”

Texas State University’s research and degree programs have been a catalyst for the transformation of this region into an innovation corridor. The spillover effects will be apparent in my next articles featuring some of the tenant companies in STAR Park, as well as other companies in the region.

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