How San Antonio Can Compete for Cyberbusiness

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Walk through a concourse at Baltimore’s BWI Airport these days and you can’t help noticing the enormous navy blue and white banner fluttering overhead, advertising the University of Maryland’s degree program in cybersecurity.

Maryland has been hard at work burnishing its entire brand when it comes to cybersecurity, and the gigantic airport banner is just one element of it.

There are 30,000 jobs in Cyber Security, and with University of Maryland University College, you can be ready to compete for yours.

“There are 30,000 jobs in Cyber Security, and with University of Maryland University College, you can be ready to compete for yours,” says a similar TV advertisement for the university.

Cybersecurity has suddenly become a white-hot industry, with a growth curve into the future to match. San Antonio already has a significant piece of that market, with its crown jewel being the 24th Air Force, also known as the Cybercommand, located at Port San Antonio, the former Kelly Air Force Base.  But if it wants to continue to retain and grow its share of the market, it’ll have to keep a close eye on its direct competition located across the country in Maryland.

Maryland has truly rolled out the red carpet for cyberbusiness. There’s a comprehensive website,, and an equally comprehensive network of state-backed tax and financial incentives for businesses locating there. There’s a “Cybersecurity Investment Incentive Tax Credit,” offering a refundable tax credit of up to 33 percent of the investment in a single fiscal year, worth up to a quarter of a million dollars; funding sources available for cybersecurity businesses (startups through mature companies) through InvestMaryland; and no fewer than 27 business incubators devoted to stimulating national security-related businesses. Maryland also touts its number of colleges and universities teaching cybersecurity, preparing tomorrow’s industry talent pool in the classroom today, 13 of which are recognized by the NSA as Centers of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance. San Antonio has five.

It’s a pretty staggering, and sobering, list of incentives available for businesses desiring to locate in Maryland. Can San Antonio compete with that directly? Spend some time digging around the Web, searching for San Antonio’s emphasis on cyberbusiness, and you will find it’s not the best comparison, though the scale is clearly apples to oranges (what a city can offer, versus a state).

While San Antonio has many assets to tout, from facilities, military and civilian industry expertise, and academic opportunities, what we don’t have is a single unified destination website like CyberMaryland to bring together all the available resources, public and private, at one easily recognizable URL. In fact, the undeveloped dotcom domain name for CyberCityUSA, which San Antonio sometimes calls itself, is owned by a couple in Western Massachusetts.

What we do have is pockets of information spread here and there, including a blog(!) at the City of San Antonio’s Economic Development Department, a TedX speech on YouTube, and an aging PowerPoint presentation. For a city that wants to make its argument that we be at least the #2 choice in location for cyberbusiness beyond the Beltway, we may have to, like Avis in the commercials of old, try a little harder to burnish the brand. And San Antonio has many unique assets to promote.

Expert after expert cites Texas’ attractive business climate – lower labor costs, a right-to-work state, and an economy that weathered even the last recession relatively intact – while emphasizing the quality of life issues for employees, including greater buying power because of the low cost of living. There’s also hundreds of days of sunshine a year, the freedom from most natural disasters, and an energy grid that keeps prices extraordinarily competitive.

In addition to better weather – no snow shoveling here, Maryland take note – “San Antonio has that perfect combination of government, industry and academia all focused on various aspects of cybersecurity and cyberspace,” says Mark Frye, a regional military affairs consultant, who wrote the base conversion handbook on Kelly AFB.

“We’re gifted or blessed in San Antonio with the presence of a number of federal agencies,” says Frye, citing the installations of the 24th Air Force, the Navy’s 10th fleet, the National Security Administration (“NSA”), cyber operations for U.S. Army North, the homeland security portion of the Army, the FBI’s cybersecurity unit and Homeland Security as part of what collectively makes San Antonio a hub for cyber.

In addition to the 24th Air Force’s location in “Building 171,” the 460,000-square-foot force-protected facility at Port San Antonio built to stringent anti-terrorism standards, where 3,000 personnel work in support of 11 different Air Force missions, there’s a 45-acre parcel of land available for development, known as “Lindbergh Park.” Frye envisions its highest and best use as a place where military organizations and defense contractors would work side by side, “a sort of Crystal City done right,” he remarks.

The 24th Air Force, also known as the Cyber Command, is based at Lackland Annex. The mission protects the integrity of military computer systems worldwide against cyberattacks. (Photo: Courtesy U.S. Air Force)

The 24th Air Force, also known as the Cyber Command, is based at Lackland Annex. The mission protects the integrity of military computer systems worldwide against cyberattacks. (Photo: Courtesy U.S. Air Force)

Will Garrett, vice president for economic development at the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, sees San Antonio’s long relationship with the military, and the wide range of “former enlisted to general officers who make San Antonio their home,” as part of the city’s “secret sauce.” Those factors have resulted in a large available workforce, led by former military, strategic for building an “alternate operating location” other than the Beltway, seen as crucial for operations that “don’t want to put all their eggs in one basket.”

The San Antonio Chamber of Commerce has for years expressed a goal that the city become “a recognized cyber community model for others.” Approximately 900 businesses located here are involved in information technology, while multiple San Antonio colleges and universities offer degrees in cybersecurity and cybersecurity management. Increasingly, there’s also an emphasis on creating an educational pipeline that starts in area high schools, a number of which teach courses in cyber and IT curricula, leading up through community college programs, and public and private four-year colleges.

Recently, University of Texas at San Antonio topped the list of best schools in the country for cybersecurity course and degree programs, as published in the February issue of Computerworld magazine. The survey was conducted among 2,000 certified IT security professionals nationwide, and sponsored by Hewlett-Packard. According to Computerworld, “UTSA’s 14 undergraduate and graduate programs in areas such as digital forensics, secure design and intrusion detection and response, were ranked first for academic excellence and practical relevance.”

Additionally, five area colleges are designated by the NSA as National Centers of Academic Excellence: UTSA, Our Lady of the Lake University, St. Philip’s College, San Antonio College, and Texas A&M University – San Antonio.

The Alamo Academies — “a national model, if not the national model in workforce education and training,” says Will Garrett — offer training and certification for IT and cyber professionals who start as high school students, and graduate to high-paying jobs upon completion of their program. Several of the Alamo Academies are housed at Port San Antonio, where graduates of their flagship aerospace academy graduate to jobs at Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

“There’s talent here you can’t find anywhere else,” says Garrett. “San Antonio will continue to grow in cyber,” Garrett emphasizes, “because the need continues to grow.”

Not to mention – better weather.

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7 thoughts on “How San Antonio Can Compete for Cyberbusiness

  1. Great article highlighting the many resources we have in San Antonio with regards to cybersecurity. However, the title of the article was “How San Antonio Can Compete For Cyberbusiness” but doesn’t really provide information on a solution, other than say we need a website. A website doesn’t solve the problem and, in fact, is really a panacea to the problem.

    My guess is there is an entire organizational infrastructure behind Maryland’s website and maybe that’s what SAT needs to compete, if we’re not already doing so. I know several in the community have called for a more organized approach, but the task of putting that together seems to elude city leaders. A lot of lip service but nothing that really makes the segment pop in San Antonio’s eyes. Then again, maybe that’s the intent.

    • Yes but a website is a start. Marketing (and Branding) is important to attracting talent and a website is one of the first things people see. People are more likely to rush to Google and perform a search using the search term “San Antonio Cybersecurity” or “Cybersecurity San Antonio” and upon first glance they will see an unorganized effort by several organizations.

      It isn’t rocket science.

      This is how people find things they are interested in. The use Google, they use Twitter, they use Facebook, and everything in between. It shouldn’t take much to develop a single public facing website and a small organization behind it that coordinates fairs, meetups, meetings, and other events.

      The Rivard Report is a brand, I think, for a certain lifestyle in San Antonio, and an effort to develop San Antonio into a world class city, that reinforces peoples thinking of San Antonio as something better, as a city that can do better.

      The Cybersecurity industry needs similar branding. It needs a marketing effort and that is the point of the story. Basically, the author is asking the reader how while also hinting that it might be a problem with branding.

      • Oh yeah, about the organizational infrastructure. There is one! San Antonio has it but it’s separated into numerous parts. UTSA, TAMUSA, OLLU, SMU, Alamo Colleges, Lackland, NSA, SAEDF, SWRI, COSA ED, SA Chamber, and others are working towards cybersecurity goals but I really can’t find a collective effort.

        I remember this one effort a few years back called Cyber City USA but I can no longer find it online.

        • Yes. Being pretty Web-centric myself, having been online since the mid-90s, the Web is the FIRST place I looked for a presence, and not finding one, started hunting and pecking until I could find what was out there. The resources that are the best turn out to be the people themselves, who can speak volubly on this topic. The CyberCityUSA thing was the domain name that the (random) couple in Massachusetts have, and haven’t developed. I was on the fence about doing this, but after I turned in the article, I went ahead and registered, which was the closest exact analog to the Maryland site. That way if someone wants to develop it down the road, at least the name will be there. BUT, it’s not the name so much that’s important; there are others that would work as well, so long as they’re short, descriptive and mnemonic. What IS important is getting the unified approach from the participants and also seeding whatever site does get developed with content. Maryland has really taken the lead in that. It’s stacked with exactly what you need to know, and who the stakeholders are. “We” could do that here, too. But someone’s got to get that ball rolling, and collectively — you wouldn’t think it would be that hard to do. Maybe the article will spur people towards that. I can only hope.

    • Randy, thanks. I didn’t get to choose the headline, but frankly I didn’t do a better job with it either. It was hard to encapsulate into a single soundbyte. “Getting there but not quite there: S.A.’s push for cyberbusiness?” I don’t really know. I’m concerned that if S.A. doesn’t take a more unified stance on this, including the more sophisticated presentation that a website and a brand really would involve, that Maryland will leave them in the dust. I hope that isn’t the case. As I mention in my other comment, there are a LOT of great brand ambassadors for the cause here in S.A. I was privileged to speak to some of them at length, and they know their stuff, and they’re passionate about it. Now we just need to do the next few steps…

  2. I became involved in the Cyber City USA efforts five years ago. I take no credit for it because many others have and are contributing much more than I to the effort and I am happy to see that it is gaining more traction.

  3. Thanks for the great comments. David, you hit the nail on the head (pardon the cliche). It’s definitely about branding, and essentially putting the most polished public-facing front forward. There are fantastic brand ambassadors for cyberbusiness in San Antonio, and I definitely talked to some of them for my reporting. That we have in spades. What we don’t seem to have is a single cohesive approach that shows the rest of the nation who we are, in the way that Maryland does. Maryland wants the business, and it shows. We need to do the same, I believe, and I’m hoping this article spurs us more in that direction.

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