Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar made a stop at the University of Texas at San Antonio’s National Security Collaboration Center Tuesday to highlight the growth of the state’s educational initiatives in cybersecurity.

The visit was part of the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts’ multi-city “Good for Texas Tour” that seeks to underscore the impact of higher education institutions in creating a workforce of cybersecurity professionals. The idea behind the tour is to call attention to the increasing significance of the cybersecurity industry in the state and the urgency to build a pipeline of future cyber warriors.

“This industry is one of the largest and fastest-growing – not just here in the state of Texas, not just in the nation – but around the world,” Hegar said. “It is amazing to know the [gross domestic product] impact of those working in this field.”

According to the Comptroller’s office, the cybersecurity industry in Texas employs about 130,000 people and accounts for $35.5 billion of the state’s overall economic output.

UTSA aims to bill the National Security Collaboration Center – a nexus of industry, academic institutions, and government agencies – as more than a research and development facility. Rather than hiding it in an anonymous location, the university is building a permanent facility for the center downtown, where UTSA hopes it will become an attraction for visitors.

The university expects to begin construction of a co-located collaboration center and School of Data Science next year. The $33 million, 80,000-square-foot structure is set for a 2022 completion just east of the university’s downtown campus.

“We are in a very special position about being bold and helping secure our nation’s future,” UTSA President Taylor Eighmy said. “The National Security Collaboration Center is this epicenter of attention and focus and collaboration that involves government, university, and industry. That is a very, very powerful blend. And we have all the ingredients here to do big things in San Antonio with our partners.”

Nearly 40 private companies and government entities have signed on to be part of the collaboration center thus far, including Air Forces Cyber, NSA Texas, CPS Energy, Booz Allen Hamilton, Arizona State University, and Texas A&M University-San Antonio.

Hegar said the center will catalyze national research in the area of information security as well as foster cybersecurity talent. The Comptroller also underscored the value of an education in cybersecurity, as it is one of the top earning professional areas in the state – with an average annual salary of $110,000, according to the Comptroller’s office.

“In this field, there is virtually 0 percent unemployment,” Hegar said. “[It] is going to continue to grow.”

The information security field is projected to grow about 42 percent over the next 10 years, according to the Comptroller’s office.

Hegar added that one of the primary aims of the tour is to ensure K-12 students in Texas are considering a career in cybersecurity.

Along with hundreds of millions of dollars invested into the expansion of the downtown campus, the collaboration center and the coming School of Data Science, which will consolidate all of UTSA’s computing-related programs under one roof, have the potential to be a recruiting tool for attracting top cybersecurity talent, said retired Brig. Gen. Guy M. Walsh, who was named the center’s first executive director earlier this year.

If the collaboration center helps attract students to studying at UTSA it could also be a force for keeping UTSA graduates in San Antonio, Walsh said, if the partnerships with federal entities and industry bear fruit in the form of jobs.

“I want to keep as many here in San Antonio, and in Texas, rather than losing them to the jobs out in Silicon Valley,” he said. “So that’s why we need to develop our relationships with the federal government, relationships with academia, and industry partners.”

JJ Velasquez

JJ Velasquez

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