Airport Reconstruction Closes With About 30 Percent Minority Business Participation, More To Come

Paul Campbell

By Barney Blakeney

The Charleston International Airport Terminal Redevelopment and Improvement Program was completed a few months ago. The project cost over $200 million. From the outset minority business participation was expected to be minimal. Airport Executive Director Paul Campbell said last week the project finished with minority business participation spending at about 30 percent of the total.

Charleston County Aviation Authority officials promised the project would reach out to insure Black business participation. In 2011 the aviation authority, which regulates the airport, announced a minority business participation goal of 8.2 percent. Austin-Hitt Contracting, general contractors for the project, hired Trust Management, LLC to insure minority business participation. Austin-Hitt committed to spending about 25 percent of the total project budget with minority firms.

The makeover of the airport terminal included an array of opportunities for contractors. Those opportunities incorporated architectural design, drywall, electrical, concrete and heating and air conditioning work as another baggage carousel and six new gates were added in addition to other changes to the 31-year-old facility.

Trust Management, LLC principle partner Maurice Washington said by the end of his contract in March of 2015, payouts to minority contractors, which includes white women and other minorities, was less than 15 percent of the total amount of money paid for construction and professional services contracts. The percentage paid to Black owned firms was significantly less, Washington however.

Charleston Sen. Marlon Kimpson has been among those leading efforts to insure black owned businesses get a fair share of the economic pie represented by activities at the airport. Like former Charleston County Aviation Authority Commissioner Andy Savage, he believes minority business participation at the airport should be ongoing. The airport has annual revenues of about $30 million. Most recently, as the airport looks for a new director to succeed Campbell, Savage has led an effort to hire a black person for the job.

In September he wrote to fellow commissioners, “We need to make a statement about inclusion. We have a rare opportunity to do that. The Charleston County Aviation Authority will be hiring a new Director before the end of 2016. We must act now. Current salary with benefits is over $300,000 per year. Many of you know that my efforts to increase the percentage of minority share of the payroll were met with indifference. Same with outside contracts. The “plantation mentality” (i.e. percentage of employees) remains the primary justification for the lack of will to be more aggressive in recruiting. Only recently did the qualifications for CCAA law enforcement applicants change which allowed for a greater opportunity for minorities to join the CCAA police.   

The employment of a minority individual as the Director would certainly ease the imbedded institutional resistance to obtain meaningful diversity.  Now is the time to act.
“So here is what I need.  Each of you to do the research necessary to find applicants. 

Encourage minority applications. Do not let CCAA to have the time worn excuse to say that no qualified minority individuals applied. There are many qualified applicants who would be interested, I am sure.  We just need to find them and encourage them.  Please help.”

Kimpson said while he hasn’t received updated numbers on airport redevelopment minority spending in about a year, he knows that moving forward authorities are making an effort to insure greater diversity in procurement for goods and services and in employment. Beyond taxi and limousine services, minority businesses are poorly represented in the airport’s economic activities, he said.

Campbell said the airport has hired a consultant to help plan initiatives that promote greater minority business participation. Its biggest vendors are auto rental companies which they can’t control. But plans are to enhance opportunities for other minority vendors in other business activities starting with about four kiosks and eventually moving a minority vendor into a permanent store. The new terminal will have some 16 permanent vendor locations, Campbell said.

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