Expanded SA Museum for STEM Innovations to Showcase Local Tech

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This rendering shows a front view of the new technology center that will house the expanded SAMSAT (San Antonio Museum of Science and Technology).

Courtesy / UTSA – Center for Urban and Regional Planning Research

This rendering shows a front view of the new technology center that will house the expanded San Antonio Museum of Science and Technology.

Fresh off his appointment as the permanent president and CEO of Port San Antonio, Jim Perschbach on Friday revealed details about the Port's future strategy as a high-tech hub – with new construction at the San Antonio Museum of Science and Technology set to play a central role.

SAMSAT houses some of the earliest artifacts in computing technology – such as the Enigma machine, a World War II-era device used to decode German messages; prototypes of the first cellphone camera, which museum founder David Monroe patented; and first-generation GPS technology.

Monroe said the museum's primary mission is education, but the people behind its expansion at Port San Antonio believe it has a role to play in economic development.

Plans are in the conceptual stage to construct a new, 50,000-square-foot facility on the former Air Force base with a showroom for local innovations, in addition to the museum and a maker space. Further details on the concept and its cost will be announced in the coming weeks, said Paco Felici, a spokesman for the Port.

"Part of this museum is to be a permanent display, a permanent world's fair, for the innovation we are doing. Then we attract not just visitors, not just locals – but we attract business," Perschbach said Friday at a San Antonio Chamber of Commerce luncheon to highlight the Port's strategy to lead on technology innovations. And San Antonio becomes a place where you can come and acquire these technologies.

"We want this truly to [reflect] what San Antonio is – a place where technologies are being created that are going to change the world."

SAMSAT encompasses a 15,000-square-foot exhibition hall as well as an educational maker space at 102 Mabry Dr. on the Port campus in Southwest San Antonio.

The current maker space, though, is just a prototype, Monroe said. Forthcoming additions to the studio-like space include a TV production area, laser optics, and machine production.

He said the building is also slated to house a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) arena – which Monroe described as a "mini AT&T Center" for STEM competitions, such as the national CyberPatriot program and robotics contests.

Port leaders want to "build this campus and complex and make [it] a go-to destination for children and young adults who are interested in STEM, want to learn about STEM, and want to get hands-on in STEM," he said.

This rendering shows a southward view of the Innovation Center with the recently opened Project Tech in the foreground.

Courtesy / UTSA – Center for Urban and Regional Planning Research

This rendering shows a southward view of the Innovation Center with the recently announced Project Tech in the foreground.

During his 40-year career in the commercial and government electronics sectors, Monroe contributed to the evolution of the personal computer, microprocessor technology, desktop video teleconferencing, and the cellphone camera.

But even though San Antonio has been home to these innovations, he said San Antonio is not well known as a technology hub. Its reputation as a convention and tourism city often overshadows its industries, he said, and its past strategy of advertising low-cost labor force has hurt its image in the long term.

"I think that's a huge mistake. When people get the impression that it's low-cost labor they think [the workers] are not qualified or not the best, and that's a very negative thing," Monroe said. "But we have really great people in San Antonio; we are educating really great people. A lot of them are leaving because they think it's low-cost labor world here. We need to get off of that and start emphasizing our excellence in San Antonio."

A $5 billion contributor to the local economy in 2016, according to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, Port San Antonio was built on the former site of the Kelly Air Force Base to be an economic engine in the areas of aerospace, logistics, and manufacturing. In recent years, it has turned its focus to developing the industries of cybersecurity and other advanced technologies.

Recently signed customers at the Port include defense contractors such as Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin slated to add to the 1,000-plus workforce of cybersecurity professionals on the 1,900-acre campus.

Perschbach echoed Monroe's sentiment about moving away from the low-cost-labor proposition and touting the Port's strategic location neighboring the 24th and 25th Air Force, NSA Texas, and major players in the aviation, national defense, manufacturing, and cybersecurity spaces.

"Let's compete on value not price," he said. "Let's make it so that San Antonio is the place where you come because this is where you are going to solve those business issues."

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