By Barney Blakeney
A recent letter critical of efforts to include Black owned businesses as part of the Charleston International Airport’s routine business activities cites Charleston Sen. Marlon Kimpson saying, “Kimpson’s biggest gripe is the fact that in the middle of North Charleston, where the African American population is somewhere in the neighborhood of 55 percent, where three of the largest churches in the entire Tri-County area (all African American) are located and where African Americans own and operate mom and pop stores and restaurants by the dozens, there is not one business in the airport that reflects the true diversity and inclusionary ideologies that Charleston and North Charleston like to claim.”
The Charleston County Aviation Authority last year completed the approximately $200 million renovation of the airport through which some four million passengers pass annually. Disadvantaged Business Enterprises, which include Black owned businesses, received about $54 million in contract awards during the three-year-long project. Earlier this year the authority awarded a design contract for the estimated $133 million parking deck to be constructed by 2020. The airport boasts annual revenues of about $30 million. Auto rentals represent the lion’s share of revenues coming into the airport, but food and beverage and other retail sales also are lucrative.
“Once again, minority-owned businesses find themselves on the outside looking in,” the writer who asked for anonymity wrote. “While the Airport has touted statistics that claim minorities are indeed a vital part of the Airport’s infrastructure, this is all simply an illusion; a ruse if you will and it is time that things change. This is a travesty. Airport Executive Director Paul Campbell knows it’s a travesty and so does everyone else who hasn’t pushed for this to happen. The truth is we should’ve never gotten to this point. This should’ve been a mandate if needed. Or at the very least, one of the highly intelligent and successful board members could’ve pointed this out. Even bigger than that, as (board member) Andy Savage alluded to, more minorities should’ve been appointed to the Board in the first place.
“But we’ve passed that point. Now we are at the place of reactionary inclusion which will undoubtedly lead to failure. And that’s just sad. I’m of the belief that if someone has to force you to invite me to your party, you really don’t want me there. If I show up, chances are high that you’re going to make me feel uncomfortable, forget to give me a seat for dinner, and force me to drink unsweetened iced tea while the rest of the room is enjoying champagne.”
I asked Kimpson to comment about the letter. “The letter obviously was written to put pressure on the aviation authority. They should know people are watching,” he said. “I feel the board is working in good faith,“ Kimpson said. While the cost of locating a business in the airport is expensive ($300,000-$500,000) Kimpson estimates, partnerships and other corporate formations might offer local Black entrepreneurs opportunities.
“Those things are not unusual elsewhere. We can make it work here also,” he said.