Potential Aersospace Project to Come to San Antonio
The officials, who asked to remain anonymous because they're not authorized to discuss the project, said the aerospace firm would need 250 to 500 workers early on, many of them engineers.
The operation — which would include research and development and manufacturing — eventually would employ a workforce of at least 3,000, though the timeframe is unknown. Average pay would be at least $80,000 a year.Port San Antonio, the former Kelly AFB and home to several sizable aerospace operations, is the local site under consideration.
Yet key details of the project — including the company's identity, the amount of potential investment and what will be developed and built — remain closely guarded secrets. Indeed, several local officials who've worked on the project for months say they still don't know which aerospace firm they're dealing with. They call it by its code name: Bullet.
Neither is it clear when the company will make its selection. One San Antonio official said the decision could come within a month, and another said within six months. Still, two sources independently said they believe the operation would develop and manufacture drone aircraft.
The site-selection process is said to have first heated up around mid-2012. San Antonio and Dallas were among the early contenders, sources said, but Dallas has dropped out of the running. The San Antonio Economic Development Foundation has taken the lead role in the recruitment effort, though its president, Mario Hernandez, and chairman, former Mayor Henry Cisneros, declined to comment. San Antonio City Hall, Bexar County and the state also are involved.
“It's a significant project,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said. “I think we have a real good plan. We have good facilities. We'll see where it goes.” Wolff said the project could involve both military and commercial aircraft, but declined further comment.
Sources said the local incentive package is the “most substantial one” the community has ever put together. San Antonio's two rivals also are said to be pursuing the project with big inducements. In a written statement, Mayor Julián Castro declined to discuss the specifics of “any prospective economic development deals involving the city.” But he said the city aggressively pursues high-paying “21st century” jobs in general.
“San Antonio is ideally positioned for growth in the aerospace industry with an asset like Port San Antonio and the community's commitment to building a workforce that is second to none,” Castro said. “If the potential exists for San Antonio to increase its aerospace investment, you can bet that we will put our best foot forward.”
Port San Antonio spokesman Paco Felici declined comment, as did a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry.
“If such a project lands on the South Side, it would be uplifting for my district, huge for the city of San Antonio and enormous for the state of Texas,” said City Councilman Rey Saldaña, whose district includes Port San Antonio. Saldaña added that talk of the aerospace project “is still speculative and the details are ever-changing.”
San Antonio's main weaknesses in the competition are its relatively small pool of aerospace, mechanical and electrical engineers, and the less-than-stellar educational attainment of its workforce. Florida, on the other hand, has a lot of technical expertise idled by downsizing at NASA. Contractors at the Kennedy Space Center have laid off more than 4,000 employees over the past four years, the Orlando Business Journal reported last week. And the state of Washington is known worldwide as the base of operations for the commercial aircraft division of Chicago-based Boeing Co.
However, San Antonio also is widely known as an aviation center, primarily for aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) operations.Among the large San Antonio aerospace employers is the Boeing Global Services & Support Center at Port San Antonio. Since 2011, Boeing's San Antonio plant has helped customize the company's 787 Dreamliners in post-production before delivery to airlines.
Boeing also announced a year ago that the San Antonio center would perform MRO work on government aircraft fleets, including Air Force One, by 2014 as the company closes its Wichita, Kan., facility.
Another large employer at Port San Antonio is the Kelly Aviation Center, an MRO facility operated by Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin Corp., along with other partners.
San Antonio is a logical site for a large aerospace operation, said Jim Perschbach, a San Antonio lawyer and an aerospace industry expert. Perschbach, of Bracewell & Giuliani LLP's San Antonio office, said he had no knowledge of the so-called Bullet project. Aerospace projects in general, Perschbach said, need a big airfield with sizeable hangar and land space, which Port San Antonio offers. “Projects also need a workforce in sufficient numbers who can do the work or be trained to do the work,” he said.“The cost of the infrastructure (workforce and facilities) must be competitive,” added Perschbach, a former chairman of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce's aerospace committee.