Will Garrett has led the charge for San Antonio’s nationally recognized cybersecurity industry for the past several years in his role as vice president at the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.
Garrett stepped down from that post last week to become Port San Antonio’s new vice president and director of cybersecurity development. In a first for the 1,900-acre manufacturing, logistics, aerospace, and cybersecurity hub and former Air Force base, Garrett becomes the only executive at the Port to focus on a specific industry. The arrival of defense contractors and cybersecurity firms to the Port in recent years have added to a contingent of information security professionals at the complex that now stands at about 1,000.
In the past five years, the Port has become the “center of gravity” for the cybersecurity industry in San Antonio, Garrett said. Although the Port’s Southwest San Antonio campus will be the focus of his work, he aims to continue his role as a connector for the information security sector citywide. By bringing together all of the local industry’s pieces, the city’s cybersecurity industry can realize a potential that still seems unmet.
“The ingredients are here. It’s how you cook the meal,” Garrett said. “And we believe there is [are] certain … assets and organizations at the Port where we can truly be someone that makes those connections and creates an ecosystem across San Antonio that we just have not seen in the past.”
Before Garrett became the Chamber’s first vice president of cybersecurity, a group of local industry leaders pushed for a study of San Antonio’s cybersecurity and how it fared against other similar markets.
The independent consultant the Chamber hired told the organization the city was “sitting on a gold mine but didn’t know how to mine the gold,” Garrett recalled. That’s when the Chamber tapped an industry council of cybersecurity experts from the private sector, government, and academia. The Chamber also put Garrett in charge of leading the development of San Antonio’s cybersecurity industry.
San Antonio is home to the second-largest concentration of cybersecurity professionals in the country. Washington, D.C., is first. With the presence of about a dozen federal agencies’ cybersecurity operations, including the 24th Air Force (Air Forces Cyber) and the National Security Agency’s Cryptologic Centers Texas, San Antonio has become a leading national cyber hub.
In the past few years, the “Cyber City, USA” moniker – complementing San Antonio’s official “Military City, USA” tag – has begun to pick up steam among area leaders in an effort to “mine the gold,” or build a national brand touting its stature in the cyber arena.
After serving as Garrett’s deputy for a little over a year, Amanda Keammerer will continue to champion the city’s cybersecurity sector as the Chamber’s acting vice president for cybersecurity. The native San Antonian returned to the city in 2017 after spending 13 years on the East Coast. Most recently, she served in the Obama administration’s Office of Management and Budget, where she advised the federal chief information officer on information technology and cybersecurity policy.
“When I told everyone in D.C. that I knew that I was moving to San Antonio to continue in cybersecurity, everyone looked at me like I had two heads, and why would I do that and why would I leave D.C.,” she said. “… It’s my hometown, it’s cybersecurity, it’s our industry, our community here, our culture, and we’re an underdog. We’re No. 2, but we’re a quiet No. 2. And we need to do a better job of pushing that forward with more urgency.”
Her ideas for steadying San Antonio’s hold on the No. 2 spot include workforce development, recruiting and retaining top cybersecurity talent, adding cybersecurity skills to the repertoires of experienced professionals, and generating more interest among young women and girls in the computing fields.
“All of those connections, all of those relationships – that is a huge first step toward getting people hired and making sure that we are changing people’s lives at the end of the day,” she said, referring to the high wages of cybersecurity professionals. The median annual pay for a cybersecurity worker was about $95,000 in 2017, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The Port has drawn an increasing number of cybersecurity tenants in recent years with defense contractors Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin bringing substantial cyberdefense operations to the sprawling Southside campus. The Port completed development last spring of the first phase of its Project Tech facility, which was designed for new cybersecurity tenants and to ease collaboration between the private-sector companies at the Port and its neighbors in the U.S. Department of Defense and federal agencies.
Local firm CNF Technologies announced last week it will move into Project Tech as its second tenant, following Lockheed Martin. On Wednesday, the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation announced it secured a deal to bring Virginia-based tech company LGS Innovations’ cybersecurity operations center to the Port, along with 45 full-time jobs.
Port President and CEO Jim Perschbach said Garrett’s arrival is a statement of intent to further build out the cybersecurity sector, a “multitrillion-dollar” market.
“This is about truly walking that walk of ‘How can we be better together?’” he said. “Will’s knowledge, his industry credentials, and his relationships are going to help us tell that story.”