Over the past 20 years, the development of the former Kelly Air Force Base into Port San Antonio has supported approximately 12,000 workers with jobs in aerospace, logistics and manufacturing in the city’s burgeoning Southside. Now cyber security and tech companies like Fidelis, Radiance Technologies, IPSecure and IOMAXIS have opened up shop at the Port which has plans to become the city’s next cybersecurity hub.
Roland Mower, Port San Antonio president and CEO since October 2014, can speak well to how the Port has leveraged its large 1,900-acre site to attract more than 70 public- and private-sector employers. In 2015, the Port announced plans to focus its economic development activities to support the creation of 5,000 new jobs at its site by 2020.
“There is a great potential for growth at Port San Antonio since only 40% of the total building space available on our 1,900 acres is developed,” Mower said. “Port San Antonio’s growth represents resurgence for San Antonio’s South and West sides with well-paying jobs to help build a middle class.”
Since the 24th Air Force was re-designated as the Air Force Cyber Command in 2010 and opened in the force-protected Lackland Annex at Port San Antonio, the push to bring more cybersecurity companies to Port San Antonio is paying off.
Cyber Growth Plan for Port San Antonio
Mower and the Port’s Executive Vice President for Business Development Jim Perschbach are working with many others on a vision for attracting cyber companies. The first phase of an 80,000 sq. ft., $15 million tech office complex would be fully customizable with enviable features geared toward tech and cyber companies. Imagine secure office spaces wired for the latest technology and Google Fiber with floor plans designed for your company’s size and needs.
“Roland (Mower) has made it clear how Port San Antonio is welcoming all businesses and can accommodate companies of all sizes to support cyber security work at the Port,” Radiance Assistant Vice President Tim Autry said. “The ability to move into a custom secure space means even smaller cyber companies can move into a state of the art secure cyber facility.”
Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4) said investing in Port San Antonio makes sense to help increase the number of tech companies at the Port. With much of the Port’s campus in District 4, Councilman Saldaña and the City Council approved the 2012 bond which funded a reconstruction project on 36th Street from Billy Mitchell to General Hudnell to improve access into Port San Antonio.
However, the Port is within both Districts 4 and 5. About 75% of the 12,000-strong workforce resides elsewhere in Bexar county, making the Port more of a regional driver for job growth.
“An investment in Port San Antonio is ultimately, an investment in the entire city, with new higher-paying jobs to help build San Antonio’s middle class,” Saldaña said. “Each emerging tech cluster adds its advantages to the city’s overall tech ecosystem, and Port San Antonio as a force protected location makes sense for cyber security companies supporting real-world cyber operations.”
Juan Solis, a former District 5 Councilman who is now on the board for Port San Antonio, agreed expanding the cyber cluster of companies is a solid plan for growth.
“We strove for diversification of the Port’s business base,” he said. “Cyber makes sense given the strong demand for local cyber support from the 24th and 25th Air Force.”
Revitalization of the Westside could accompany the job growth cyber companies at the Port would bring.
“The impact from the Port’s growth on the Westside of San Antonio isn’t just from these better paying cyber jobs that can help build the middle class locally,” Solis said. “As more workers relocate to be closer to the Port, the demands for restaurants, housing and services in District 5 can help support the creation of other types of new businesses also.”
With headquarters in Huntsville, Ala., Radiance Technologies opened an office at Port San Antonio because “San Antonio is a huge cyber market,” Autry said.
With a staff of 24, Radiance started in San Antonio a little over two years ago in November 2013, opening its new office space at the Port in March 2016.
“Our customers are the 90th Information Operations Squadron, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center and Responsive Cyber Acquisition Branch,” Autry said. “We moved to Port San Antonio where we are only 10 minutes away from the 90th at Lackland Air Force Base, with both the Responsive Cyber Branch and Life Cycle Management Center very close to our Port office. Port San Antonio is the most advantageous location for cyber companies working with government clients.”
This emphasis on being responsive and able to work in secure spaces on sensitive cybersecurity missions reflects the increasing severity and sophistication of cyber threats.
The 2015 Department Of Defense (DoD) Cyber Strategy lists DoD’s three cyber missions: Defend DoD networks, systems and information; defend the United States and its interests against cyber attacks of significant consequence; and provide integrated cyber capabilities to support military operations and contingency plans.
The bottom line is to ensure the U.S. can operate with full freedom of action in cyberspace. Think about ransomware, for example, targeting not just individuals, but hospitals. That’s just one type of threat DoD is working to make sure doesn’t impact its networks.
“Full spectrum cyber operations sometimes requires going beyond just protecting and defending to fielding capabilities and forces that are able to operate in cyberspace,” Autry said. “Being at the Port allows us to be responsive and work closely with our customers.”
Founded in 2000 by owner Jesse Rodriguez, IPSecure is a homegrown cyber security company. Clients include the 743rd ISS Cyber Security Operations (Computer Emergency Response Team) in the 25th Air Force and the 33rd NWS Computer Emergency Response Team and 346th Test Squadron at 24thAir Force, as well as PenCIRT, the Pentagon’s computer incident response team, among others. IPSecure has an office in northwest San Antonio, as well as a Port San Antonio location.
“The owner grew up across from Saint Mary’s and went to Memorial High School, then worked at Kelly as an electrical apprentice,” said Richard Valdez, IPSecure chief technology officer. “He used his retirement from the military to start the company and built it up. We’re at over 100 strong now.”
Valdez pointed out how IPSecure is staffed by local talent, and is still growing to meet the demand for skilled cyber expertise.
“I’m from here, too,” he said. “There’s a huge influx of cyber work here, what with both the 24th and 25th Air Force in San Antonio. Commercial cyber work is also coming here. We’re using all that to leverage the local talent and build upon the local pipeline to develop more trained cyber experts and staff the work that’s still growing.”
IPSecure works closely with the local cyber community, hosting local events geared toward cyber security professionals as well as supporting local Cyber Patriot teams.
“We hosted the two (Cyber Patriot) teams that went to the finals at our site over the past three weeks so they’d have a good open environment to work and bounce some ideas on cybersecurity, teaching them how we do business, to help them be even more competitive,” Valdez said.
IPSecure hired students from the first Cyber Patriot teams. Mario Puente is one local success story who started as a student intern at the NWS 33rd Network Warfare Squadron. He’s since relocated to be part of the Pentagon team as a full-time IPSecure cyber expert.
More Cyber Professionals Needed
Valdez knows the demand for skilled cyber workers outstrips supply.
“We work with transitioning veterans as well as younger students interested in pursuing cyber security as a career,” he said. “We’re looking for those thinking outside the box to help bring new ideas to the cybersecurity field.”
Because cybersecurity professionals working for the government usually need clearances, military veterans with active clearances typically are recruited. But there aren’t enough to meet the demand.
“We sponsor new employees working with commercial clients, so we can show them how we do business while we sponsor them for their first security clearance,” Valdez added. “In the past, government and DoD were hiring talent from the commercial sector, but now it’s the other way around. We’re pulling from DoD and government those skilled people with clearances.”
Companies like Radiance Technologies and IPSecure are willing to invest in people with potential by sponsoring them with work for a commercial client while they wait for their first security clearance to be processed.
“We are interviewing and hiring candidates practically every day, and we’re really big on internships, as we’re interested in getting local talent into our office so students can learn as they work with us,” Autry said.
Attracting More Cyber Security to Port San Antonio
The Port is moving ahead with an aggressive strategy to get the word out on the many advantages for new cyber companies setting up operations. Customized state-of-the-art tech spaces and room to expand across 1,900 acres can be compelling, especially when the Port’s emerging cyber cluster complements the larger tech ecosystem growing in San Antonio.
“A key component to the strength of the cyber security ecosystem in San Antonio is the availability of operating locations and talent for businesses to support public and private sector organizations’ security needs,” said Will Garrett, who heads the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce’s CyberSecurity SA initiative.
With the potential for new custom cyber facilities for tech companies possible in Port San Antonio’s Phase I plan, that availability – as well as the local cyber talent pool – gives the Port certain advantages.
“It is exciting to see locally headquartered companies as well as new brands to the market choose the Port as the location for their cyber security offices and innovation centers,” Garrett said. “Companies will continue to recognize the competitive value that Port San Antonio presents in engaging and supporting national security missions.”
This story was originally published on Monday, April 18.
Top Image: Several agency headquarters – including hundreds of 24th Air Force employees – are housed within the 450,000-square-foot Building 171 at the Port. Photo courtesy of Port San Antonio.