From Kelly to Port San Antonio: A 100-Year Legacy
For 100 years, the large space that is Port San Antonio has been a place where generations of talented people have focused their energy, creativity and hard work to achieve a better life for themselves and the generations who follow.
That powerful concept—building futures—defines the work that is undertaken today and the opportunities we’re preparing our community to capture in the century ahead.
Port San Antonio was created in the aftermath of the closure of Kelly Air Force Base—one of the world’s first military aviation platforms, established in 1917.
Kelly was a place of bold pioneers and innovators. At the dawn of World War I, it was the training ground for some of the world’s first military pilots.
Then, in the mid 1940’s, the site’s mission changed. Training was conducted at other locales, including the newly-formed San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center across the airfield (better known today as Lackland Air Force Base – still home of basic training for all incoming airmen).
As part of that mission change, Kelly focused principally on aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul—recruiting from the region’s civilian workforce over the course of half a century. As a result, thousands of families throughout the San Antonio region came to know Kelly as the place where one could count on finding a good job and building a better life.
Generations of men and women—parents, children and even grandchildren—were employed as hard-working civil servants in what became one of the Department of Defense’s largest aircraft maintenance and repair installations. They were managers, technicians and administrators charged with ensuring the mission-readiness of countless military aircraft.
But in 1995, the place that is credited with providing thousands of San Antonians with a path toward the middle class received some hard news: Kelly was among the facilities to be closed in accordance with the recommendations of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission.
In the years that followed, community and federal leaders worked tirelessly to ensure that Kelly’s legacy as one of the largest and most important employers in the region would endure for thousands of current workers and for future generations.
Despite the uncertain future they faced, their efforts paid off—possibly far beyond anyone’s expectations when the realignment and closure decision was first announced.
Between 1995 and August 2001 (the date Kelly Air Force Base officially closed), the special redevelopment authority known today as Port San Antonio was created. In accordance with the Texas Local Government Code, the San Antonio City Council created an independent authority to take ownership of 1,900 acres of land (roughly three times the area of the city’s downtown central business district) and repurpose it with one essential goal in mind: Maintain and grow jobs for the community.
During those years of transition from base to redevelopment authority, the first private-sector companies established vast operations in former Air Force facilities. Companies that included Boeing, Lockheed Martin, StandardAero and Chromalloy were among the Port’s first customers. In the large hangars and workshops they leased from the Port, they continued the work of maintaining important military aviation platforms, including C-17’s, C-130’s, KC-135’s, among others.
As a result of this seamless transition, scores of former Kelly workers continued in their careers serving the Department of Defense. This momentum also created the foundation through which the newly-formed redevelopment authority could begin the task of repurposing a large and complex property to help the San Antonio community connect with important growth opportunities locally, nationally and globally.
Over the course of more than 20 years, the Port has emerged as one of the most successful base redevelopment efforts in the country.
Today, we are home to over 80 private- and public-sector tenant customers who directly employ about 12,000 people on our campus. That activity in turn contributes over $5 billion annually to the regional economy.
Maintenance of military aircraft conducted by our original customers remains a big part of the work that takes place here. What’s more, thanks to robust growth that is expected in the commercial aviation sector in the years ahead, those companies—and additional aviation customers who have established operations on our campus in recent years— are working hand-in-hand with the Port to attract new opportunities associated with maintenance and modification of airliners and cargo aircraft.
In addition to a strong aerospace cluster, we’re also home to an array of other industries.
The Department of Defense continues to have a large presence on our property. In the aftermath of subsequent base realignment decisions (the 2005 BRAC), many Department of Defense missions and thousands of personnel consolidated to the San Antonio region. Several of those operations, including highly specialized agency headquarters, had an urgent need for secure facilities.
Accordingly, the Port led efforts beginning in 2008 to conduct $60 million in significant upgrades to a vast office complex on the east side of its campus. Today, the five buildings comprising this complex provide over 750,000 square feet of strategic facilities that meet Anti-Terrorism Force Protection (ATFP) standards and accommodate thousands of uniformed and civilian personnel. The space encompasses the national headquarters for several key Air Force agencies, including the Air Force Medical Operations Agency, the Air Force Civil Engineer Center and the 24th Air Force, informally known as the Cyber Command.
The large Air Force presence has in turn attracted a number of contractors to the campus, including a growing array of cybersecurity specialists that support both Air Force and commercial-sector clients in the region.
The Port’s platform is also ideal for advanced manufacturing operations. In recent years, companies based outside Texas have established facilities at the Port to tap into a number of strategic advantages—including a strong local workforce and customized and scalable facilities that can meet their production needs and offer supply-chain efficiency as they bring components and other materials into the Port en route to global distribution.
The Port has established an ambitious goal to create 5,000 new jobs by 2020.
As we look at this upcoming milestone and the years beyond, we also take into account the history that allowed our property and generations of people who worked here to succeed:
We must remain flexible and be quick to adapt.
The Port, with its large spaces and unique logistics assets, is especially well-equipped to connect people with opportunities that arise around the corner, across our nation or on the other side of the globe.
Specifically, our plans are focused on continuing to be strategic partners to the industries that are thriving here.
Since the dawn of aviation, San Antonians have built incredible expertise in aircraft maintenance, repairs and modifications. And that is the hallmark of much of the work that takes place at the Port. Thousands of talented men and women on our campus exemplify that breadth of experience. They ensure the preparedness of iconic platforms that are the backbone of today’s military aviation—from the steadfast B-52 and C-17 to today’s most advanced commercial airliners, including the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and 747-8 air cargo freighter. We work hand-in-hand with our customers to capture those important opportunities in global aerospace growth, as the global fleet of commercial aircraft is projected to more than double in less than 20 years.
Strong logistics connections, our site’s foreign-trade zone designation, a robust workforce and training partners and an array of logistics specialists are among the key elements that make the Port a durable foundation for making great things. In addition to a large aerospace community, we’ve welcomed manufacturers in recent years who have specialized in the following: assembly within a foreign-trade zone; manufacturing of HVAC units used in trucks and other heavy equipment in the U.S. and Mexico; and, most recently, an India-based firm that is opening its first North American plant at the Port—an ideal location for its manufacturing of high precision components for the medical, aerospace and automotive industries.
San Antonio is home to the second-largest concentration of cybersecurity experts in the U.S. outside of Washington, D.C. And a big number of them—over 1,000, in fact—are housed at Port San Antonio. Here, many of them support the Air Force Cyber Command. This large community has created an important center of gravity on the Port campus. Starting in 2015, four private-sector firms established operations at the Port both to support the Department of Defense but also to serve the non-military market—regional and global industries for whom securing data and IT infrastructure is paramount. These include the aerospace, manufacturing, banking and the medical sectors, among many others. The Port’s near-term plans include adding a new office complex that is tailor-made to support the needs of cybersecurity and other advanced technology operations.
Our position on the heart the NAFTA Highway, strong multi-modal connections and the region’s large market and dynamic economy make the Port an ideal location for several specialized logistics service providers. They support many of our existing customers and also serve growing industries throughout South Texas, including energy, manufacturing and retail.
Over half of the 12,000 workers at the Port are Air Force personnel—mostly professionals, including cybersecurity specialists, architects, engineers, and attorneys—who work for a growing number of agency headquarters on the campus. Furthermore, as additional missions relocate to the region, Port San Antonio has emerged as a leader in helping the Air Force meet pressing needs for highly specialized facilities.
About 400 acres in the heart of the campus comprise a mix of historic and new buildings to support an array of customers and grow amenities for thousands of people who already work here. There are several offices—including state-of-the-art spaced built to top sustainability standards—that house defense, cybersecurity, business services and other administrative functions. There are also nearly 400 housing units that are leased to the general public. And, increasingly, the Port is working to bring more restaurant and dining options to the growing number of workers on-site and the surrounding community.