About half way between Austin, the capital of Texas, and San Antonio, the state's third largest city, located just off Interstate Highway 35, lies the city of San Marcos, home to two adjacent outlet malls. They do not just happen to be big; they are 'Texas big' with 93,000 square metres covered by vast parking lots and faux-Mediterranean style buildings hosting more than 350 shops.
Until recently, outlet malls were the main reason to visit San Marcos, a city of 58,800 people. However, this is not the case any more; according to Daniel Guerrero, the mayor of San Marcos, as an increasing number of people are choosing to live in the city. “According to the US Census Bureau, for the past three years we have been the fastest growing city in the whole country out of cities with population of more than 50,000,” he says.
Asked for reasons behind such growth, Mr Guerrero points to the fact that that his city is benefiting from the booming tech economy of its much larger neighbour Austin. “You have the proximity of Austin, but life here is much more affordable,” he says, adding that housing prices in San Marcos are on average 38% lower than in Austin.
But it has not only been this spillover effect from Austin that has been in the catalyst of San Marcos's growth. In 2012, Texas State University, which is based in the city, was appointed as an emerging research institution, which gave it the capability to provide skilled graduates across a range of tech sectors, which could act as a magnet for companies in this field. “We are increasingly targeting companies from fields such as nanotechnology, aviation and material science,” says Mr Guerrero, who adds that the city is also looking to attract projects connected with corporate operations, customer care, data storage and distribution.
Big business, big speed
Mr Guerrero has a long list of sectors open to investment in San Marcos and recently gained a powerful endorsement from e-commerce giant Amazon, which announced its decision to locate a fulfilment centre in San Marcos and create 1000 jobs. “This proves that we have great capabilities as a city for disribution related-projects, but it also shows our approach to attract investments here,” says Mr Guerrero. “We met with Amazon representatives in May , and they told us they will need a site ready for construction by the end of July. We beat that deadline by three days.” He adds that preparing the site for investment involved re-zoning and granting necessary construction approvals.
The city's size and economic landscape might be changing, but one thing remains unchanged, according to Mr Guerrero. San Marcos' natural beauty has it the nickname 'San Marvellous'. This stands in direct contrast to its bigger neighbour, which uses the slogan 'Keep Austin Weird', a testament to the fact that the city is known across the state as the most liberal and eccentric place in Texas. “Austin is a fine city,” says Mr Guerrero. “But if you ask me, I would rather be marvellous than weird,” he adds.