As the Charleston International Airport redevelopment project comes to a close – completion of the five-year project is expected this month – Airport authorities are turning their attention toward developing a more racially diverse economic footprint.
Over the past several years, members of the Charleston County Aviation Authority, which is the agency that sets policy for the airport, felt it should better reflect the county’s population in all aspects, most importantly economically. Deputy Executive Director James Preacher said they had statistical information, but no plan to utilize that data.
To solve that problem, they looked to Sharon McGhee, the airport’s director of Human Resources. A 17-year employee, McGhee spent three years as HR director. She did such a good job diversifying the staff – about 32 percent of airport’s 173 employees are minorities, last May the authority hired McGhee as its new Director of Community Relations. In her new role, McGhee will lead the airport’s efforts to achieve diversity in workforce and vendor participation.
McGhee says it’s a no-brainer that minority businesses should participate in the economic activities that generate the airport’s $39 million annual operating budget. To facilitate that, the airport has developed an internal database which it uses to communicate with minority firms about every manner of business opportunities from construction, special events and furnishings to employment.
In February, more than 100 business owners attended the second of four South Carolina DBE Fly-In events hosted at Charleston International Airport. The events are an opportunity for minority and women-owned businesses to connect with key leaders at the state’s major airports. Potential vendors can get information by going to www.chs-airport.com.
And there are opportunities for vendors. With over 3.4 million passengers passing through the airport last year, those opportunities are increasing. According to one source, the airport’s first minority-owned vendor is expected to be contracted this year.
McGhee says she spends a lot of her time conducting outreach initiatives like the recently held Black Expo in North Charleston and is quick to note that in addition to the obvious business opportunities there are career opportunities. An intern apprenticeship program started last year between the aviation authority and South Carolina State University is expanding to include two more institutions, she said.
Corporate Communications Manager Charlene Gunnels said as the airport expands over the next decade by adding a third concourse, construction projects not only will lead to contracts with minority firms, but business opportunities and jobs as well.