(From left) Brooks President and CEO Leo Gomez and Jim Perschbach, Port San Antonio's interim CEO, speak Thursday during a Southside First Economic Development Council luncheon in which the leaders discussed economic challenges and opportunities facing South San Antonio.
(From left) Brooks President and CEO Leo Gomez and Jim Perschbach, Port San Antonio's interim CEO, speak Thursday during a Southside First Economic Development Council luncheon. Credit: JJ Velasquez / San Antonio Report

The leaders of two economic engines in South San Antonio emphasized collaboration – not contentiousness  – among area job centers to drive further growth of the local economy.

Port San Antonio and Brooks, both former military bases, now serve as an aerospace, manufacturing, and cybersecurity hub and a live-work-play, mixed-use development, respectively.

“What we are trying to do is leverage what we do so well in San Antonio so that we’re competing not with different parts of the community, but we’re competing with Utah,  we’re competing with Israel,” said Jim Perschbach, interim CEO of Port San Antonio. “What we are looking at is a multi-trillion-dollar addressable market. It’s about taking technologies and incorporating them into aviation, incorporating them into manufacturing, incorporating them into health care.”

Perschbach and Brooks President and CEO Leo Gomez spoke about the challenges, opportunities, and economic vision for San Antonio’s South Side Thursday at the inaugural Economic Exchange, organized by the Southside First Economic Development Council. Formed last year, the nonprofit organization advocates for economic prosperity south of the U.S. Highway 90 corridor.

Gomez said he is amused when he hears community members compare Port San Antonio to Brooks as though they are strict competitors. What people don’t understand, he said, is that it behooves both organizations to find the right local fit for a prospective tenant.

“We’re first and foremost pitching San Antonio,” he said. “As we deal with a prospect and figure out what it is the prospect needs and what it is that’s truly going to attract them, we are very honest and professional about where they need to go because at the end of the day we need them in San Antonio.”

A former U.S. Air Force base with 1,300 acres slated for live-work-play development on the city’s Southeast side, Brooks is set to break ground on a 350,000 square-foot
light industrial facility next week. The City of San Antonio recently selected the area as one of three proving grounds for smart-city initiatives.

Home to about 12,000 workers and more than 70 employers in the areas of cybersecurity, aerospace, manufacturing, and logistics – among other industries – the Port had a more than $5 billion impact on the economy in 2016, according to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.

Port San Antonio leaders unveiled to the public last month its 90,000-square-foot Project Tech facility, to which they aim to attract enterprises working with cutting-edge digital technologies.

Perschbach said real estate professionals told the Port’s leadership they were crazy for locating the Project Tech facility on its South Side campus. He said a perception exists that high-tech professionals will not want to work there.

But he pointed to an upcoming, yet-to-be-announced global security company that will be Project Tech’s first tenant as evidence to the contrary. The company will be announced on June 22.

Gomez said it’s time to move past the negative images that have historically plagued lower-income areas. He said good schools, homes, and restaurants exist on the South Side despite persisting biases.

“Let’s get the past perceptions of certain parts of town behind us,” he said. “And let’s start looking for the opportunities that are bringing success to all of San Antonio by investing throughout San Antonio. … Let’s move forward with a bright future that is already here.”

JJ Velasquez

JJ Velasquez

JJ Velasquez was a columnist, former editor and reporter at the San Antonio Report.