Yesterday, the Chamber’s 2021 Board of Directors met for the first time under the leadership of our new Chair Hope Andrade. Hope kicked off the meeting by welcoming board members and her 2021 leadership team and introduced former Chair of the Board and President and CEO of CPS Energy Paula Gold-Williams to give an update on the 2021 Chair-Elect. As Chair of the Nominating Task Force, Paula was excited to share the great news that Phil Green, Chairman and CEO of Cullen/Frost Bankers, Inc. and Frost Bank was selected to be the Chamber’s 2021 Chair-Elect. Frost Bank has a deep and rich history in San Antonio, they are an exemplary corporate citizen, and they have worked hard to ensure we have had great guidance and support in building San Antonio. The Board unanimously approved Phil Green serving as the Chamber’s 2021 Chair-elect.
Hope then gave an update on the Chamber’s One City Priority. San Antonio has been deeply affected by the pandemic, and for us to have a successful recovery, we need to work together as One City! For 2021, we will focus our energy and attention on spearheading the recovery and reinvestment in our great city, with a particular focus on our downtown hospitality industry. This focus may take many forms, including legislation and policy, building consumer confidence, and driving business to our downtown core. We encourage everyone to share ideas about how we can be successful in helping our businesses community recover. To assist with this initiative, Laura Vaccaro, VP of Community Investment and Engagement for Valero, and Robert Thrailkill, VP of Operations at Zachry Hospitality, are leading efforts to connect with key players from our hospitality sector and foster important and robust discussions around recovery of this driving industry. Robert Thrailkill discussed the 2021 One City Hospitality Coalition and the goal of bringing stakeholders together to discuss their current priorities, so the group can select the top two or three common priorities that would benefit everyone.
Next, Jamie Kowalski, Director of Relationship Marketing for the RK Group, gave a brief presentation on the RK Group’s newest venue The Red Berry Estate. The Red Berry Estate was built in 1951 as the home of State Senator Red Berry. In 2018, the RK Group took the estate over through a public-private partnership and started construction and renovation the following year. The estate is now a workable, indoor-outdoor one-of-a-kind event venue. To learn more about this incredible asset to San Antonio, click here.
Ed Kelley, former Chamber Chair of the Board and member of the CPS Energy Board of Trustees, was our next presenter to the Board, and he spoke about what is happening at CPS Energy and reinforced the organization’s great work and contributions to the community. He reiterated CPS Energy’s role as an incredible economic development tool for San Antonio and the fact that CPS Energy has been part of the City’s infrastructure for 160 years. He shared that third-party surveys indicate that CPS Energy customers want affordable energy costs and dependability, and CPS Energy works very hard on those issues. To that end, CPS Energy rates are among the lowest of any major city in the country and the lowest in the state of Texas, and with their diverse energy mix and operating model, CPS Energy has among the highest dependability factors of any energy company in the country. Additionally, CPS Energy funds approximately 30% of the City budget, and last year, they gave $350 million to the City’s general fund, which pays for streets, drainage, parks, sidewalks and police. As far as environmental stewardship goes, 20% of CPS Energy’s generation is made up of renewables. Despite the fact that they are #1 in solar in Texas and #2 in wind energy and have an energy plan that is the envy of most of the industry, they are constantly criticized for not moving quickly enough on their environmental stewardship. His biggest concern and hence his visiting with the Board is his fear that if they try to move too quickly, CPS Energy’s reliability would be jeopardized and that electricity rates would increase exponentially. Ed asked members of the business community to help educate people about the great work CPS Energy does. Chamber President and CEO Richard Perez reminded the Board that San Antonio residents spoke when they chose not to sign the recent petition to upend the governance of CPS Energy. The Chamber led the No Petition (NOPE) campaign to educate San Antonio residents on the real facts behind the great work CPS Energy and SAWS do in our community, and we were successful!
Richard also shared that we are looking for quality, smart, and thoughtful business people to serve on the CPS Energy Rate Advisory Committee(RAC), which will be a 21-person group that will help provide advice, information and guidance to the CPS Energy Board and leadership team on rates. Ten of those positions will be appointed by the San Antonio City Council, and the CPS Energy Board will appoint 11. Appointees must be at least 18 years of age and be a customer of CPS Energy. Click here to learn more about the Rate Advisory Committee.
Next, former State Senator Leticia Van de Putte with the firm Andrade Van de Putte provided Board members with an update on the 87th Legislative Session. She began by pointing out that there are 17 newly elected members of the Texas House of Representatives, many of whom have backgrounds in business. Additionally, there are four new members of the Texas Senate. Because of the pandemic, normal activity at the capital will be very different with electronic submission of testimony being the norm for the time being. She also shared that on the Senate Committee assignments front, the Bexar County delegation did really well. Senator Menendez is the Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Local Government; Senator Campbell is Chair of the Committee on Veterans and Homeland Security; and Senator Gutierrez is on the Water and Agriculture Committee. Senator Van de Putte also shared that Senator Kelly Hancock, Chairman of the Business and Commerce Committee, will be the author of the COVID liability shield bill, which will be an omnibus bill that takes in manufacturers, employers, health care professionals, and first responders. The issue of liability protection is one of several business community priorities for the Chamber this session. She reminded the Board that the only bill that must be legally passed by the Texas Legislature is the budget and that Comptroller Hegar issued a revised State revenue estimate, and the Texas Legislature has $112.5 billion for the 2022 – 23 budget. This means there will currently be about a $1 billion budget deficit. While still a large number, she shared that the number is much smaller by several billion dollars than was that was originally estimated. Senator Van de Putte pointed out that the State receives 61.7% of its revenue from sales tax and reinforced the importance of collecting sales tax from remote sellers who sell goods in Texas.
To close out the meeting, Richard Perez provided a series of updates during his President’s Report that consisted of an end-of-year finance wrap up (despite the effects of the pandemic, the Chamber ended 2020 with a small revenue over expense balance), a Space Command update, as well as sharing the dates for VIVA San Antonio (March 2 – 4) and our annual SA to DC visit to our Nation’s Capital (October 18 – 22).