Mayor Ron Nirenberg is engaging Pentagon officials in a bid to position San Antonio as an epicenter of military medicine.

That recruitment effort includes selling top brass on the merits of placing the Defense Health Agency’s operations home in the Alamo City.

“The DHA realignment and getting San Antonio to be recognized as the center for military medicine is one of the primary goals,” Nirenberg said.

Nirenberg asked retired Maj. Gen. Juan Ayala, director of the city of San Antonio’s military and veteran affairs office, to reach out to Pentagon officials for a meeting. With the pandemic limiting travel and interaction in the U.S., the mayor saw this as an ideal time to reach a captive audience.

“We could make an impression and take advantage of less divided attention among some of the top brass who are making these decisions,” Nirenberg said.

The Department of Defense is in the midst of a multiyear consolidation of military hospitals and clinics under the DHA, which will oversee all health care the DoD delivers to its more than 9 million beneficiaries across the world. San Antonio officials want a big piece of that action.

There is some consensus that such a prize is not out of reach as the city has amassed significant military medical resources that complement its public and private research institutions. An expanding collaboration between those military, public- and private-sector assets could also work in San Antonio’s favor.

“The military sees the value in this. They see the need,” said Ed Davis, co-founder of San Antonio-based economic development consulting firm DavisDuncan LLC.

The Texas Research & Technology Foundation’s buildout of its VelocityTX innovation campus in East San Antonio will boost those collaborative efforts.

Activity at VelocityTX complements the ecosystem of military medicine, Nirenberg said. The incubator and clean-room space there facilitate opportunities to commercialize military medicine.

“We have assets to build on,” he said.

San Antonio leaders have had several conversations with military officials over the last couple of years as the DHA realignment process has evolved. One of the next steps will be to convince Pentagon officials to bring a delegation to San Antonio to see the assets and opportunities available here, Nirenberg said.

There is plenty on the line as such a win could raise San Antonio’s stature in health care and the biosciences globally. It could also help the city attract more private-sector, academic and nonprofit entities interested in working with the military, San Antonio Economic Development Corp.’s Corey Levinson said.

“We want to continue the consolidation of defense health activities into San Antonio, including the administrative, strategic and operational functions of the DHA,” Nirenberg said. “Landing the DHA’s home base here is meaningful. The residual impact would be tremendous.”

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