At a Crossroads of Continents, Ancient Turkish Port City is Modern Logistics Hub (Part 2)
By Edward Lundquist
Aegean Free Zone in Izmir is “connected to the sea,” offers ideal location, highly skilled workforce
As the founder and CEO of ESBAS, Kaya Tuncer was a developer with a vision.
“I was looking at building hotels or resorts, but they didn’t really interest me,” he told me in July 2011. “I wanted to build a business park that would provide jobs.”
“So we bought and leased land here in Izmir,” he said. “At first it was hard to lease land to tenants, so we built on the land and leased the buildings. They told us, ‘You build us a building and we’ll come to your free zone.’ The tenants didn’t want to take the risk of building. But potential customers saw our commitment to providing both world-class infra-structure and buildings. In those first few years we owned about 80 % of the buildings. Now we own just 25% of them.”
Tuncer’s vision included a plan to attract high tech tenants, and provide jobs for tech-savvy employees in the future.
“My primary criterion is jobs,” he said. “We’re expanding from 20,000 to 35,000 people.”
“We provide the water, power, communication services, sanitation, sewer, roads, drainage, parking, day care, and we feed their workers,” he said. “Our kitchen is one of the most modern in Turkey. We’re increasing our service to 24,000 meals per day.”
In the mid-1990s, NASA was sharing technologies and establishing Space Camps. “We wanted to get some new technology transferred to Turkey,” Tuncer said. “And a Turkish-born engineer who had retired from NASA’s space program, Ismail Akbay, was trying to get a Space Camp into Turkey.
“I was trying to get an industrial park developed with a high-tech orientation. And I needed tenants. So we created Space Camp Turkey,” Tuncer said.
In 1996, ESBAS signed a license agreement with the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama to open Space Camp Turkey.
“The first year we gave out 700 scholarships to Turkish kids who could not afford to come here. Today we have young people from all over the world—Arabs and Israelis; Greeks and Turks,” Tuncer said. “They all share an interest in space. Here they are part of a flight crew named for stars and planets. They are no longer Greeks or Turks or Chinese or American, they are Saturn or Jupiter or Venus.”
“The social and cultural dimension of this is probably more important to me than the science part of it,” he said.
Tuncer built Space Camp for the young people, but he said it makes a statement to potential tenants. “Investors and potential clients see Space Camp, and our commitment to education. This place has the kind of vision that makes them say ‘we should locate here.’ Then they see my electric car. They come to the conclusion that this is a place they want to be.”
It works both ways, Tuncer added. “Kids come here for Space Camp, but see the high-tech opportunities and perhaps decide to come to work here in the future.”
ESBAS is not only close to the airport and seaport, but it also has its own space port.
Space Camp Turkey is one of three space camps in the world, licensed by U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala. The other two camps are in Huntsville and Montreal, Canada. Woodham said the camp is funded mostly by camp fees and scholarships are provided by ESBAS, and private sponsors. “Boeing is probably our biggest sponsors for providing opportunities to needy children throughout Turkey.”
Ismail Akbay was known as “the Turkish villager who helped put a man on the moon,” because he was a colleague of Werner von Braun at NASA and designed the first stage of the Saturn V rocket that propelled the Apollo lunar missions. Akbay shared his idea for a Space Camp in Turkey with Tuncer, who turned to Woodham, a retired U.S. Air Force officer, in 1997 to set it up. SCT opened in 2000.
While the market for Space Camp Turkey is in Istanbul, it is located here to be a magnet to attract high-tech business. PHW and Fokker Elmo manufacture aircraft wing assemblies and harnesses, and Pratt and Whitney is building a new engine manufacturing site as a joint venture. “We’re forming an aviation cluster,” said Woodham.
Woodham said about 60 percent of the attendees come from Turkey, and many of them come from families with low incomes. “This year ESBAS gave away 500 scholarships,” he says.
Attendees come from all over the world. “We’ve had about 100,000 youth or adults come from about 60 different countries since we opened in 2000. We have several programs, ranging from a three day customized program to a 6-day summer session where teams conduct simulated missions to space . They have to work together to get back to Earth, like Apollo 13. They have to practice good time management, and function well as a team.”
SCT is not just a seasonal program. “We have 13 full-time staff, and that doubles in the summer. We look for English-speaking counselors. We usually conduct telephone interviews. Many of our counselors come back, and many were referred by other counselors,” Woodham says. “We have a lot of groups that come from international schools in the spring. It’s part of their academic program. They do a ‘week without walls,’ where they go into the communities near here and do something positive for the schools and the people there.”
“We have schools from around the Middle East,” Woodham says. “Last month we had a group of Israeli Arabs, and a group from Palestine. Programs for schools can be customized from three to six days. We’re pretty level-loaded most of the time except in September, which is the beginning of the school year. For groups from China and Russia, we’ve used translators, and we created special software for the mission.”
“We’ve trained teachers who have been coming back with their students year after year, some for ten years, Woodham says.
Kaya Tuncer, 74, passed away on January 7, 2012, at his Pacific Palisades, Calif., home. He had been struggling with stomach cancer for more than two years. He was born in 1937 in Trabzon, Turkey. He is survived by his wife, Mary, of 48 years, and daughters Deniz and Ayshe.
He earned his degree in civil engineering from University of California at Berkeley in 1962, and MBA in international business in 1967 from the University of Southern California. After a career in site development, he created ESBAS and fulfilled a vision to create a world-class center for commerce. He was responsible for major building projects overseas, working for companies such as Bechtel. He later developed the Aegean Free Zone.
'If the Aegean Free Zone is testimony to Kaya's most remarkable contribution as a builder, then the establishment of Space Camp Turkey can be considered his biggest gift to youth of the world,' remarked Scott Woodham, director of international marketing for Space Camp Turkey.