By Barney Blakeney
By most accounts, Charleston International Airport is in good financial shape. The approximately $200 million Charleston International Airport Terminal Redevelopment and Improvement Program (TRIP) was completed in 2016. The county’s aviation authority, which sets policy for the airport, is set to start another building project: construction of a second parking deck estimated to cost about $135 million. And according to reports, the airport had fiscal 2017 revenues of about $60 million. The money’s flowing, but not enough to Black businesses.
Charleston Sen. Marlon Kimpson this week said he’s been working on that problem since being elected in 2013. “I’ve been raising the issue for some time. Those efforts are starting to yield some fruit, though a lot more work has to be done,” Kimpson said Tuesday, noting three of four new vendor kiosks at the newly renovated airport are owned by African Americans.
Kimpson took office in 2014, too late to greatly impact minority business participation in the TRIP construction program.
Austin-Hitt Contracting, general contractors for the project, committed to spending about 25 percent of the total project budget with minority firms. Austin-Hitt reported it spent a combined 35.7 percent of the total construction spending with Women/Minority/Disadvantaged/Small Business Enterprises (MWS/BEs) for a total of about $41.93 million.
Kimpson said while construction spending is important, it’s through ongoing operating revenue that the big money flows. Charleston County Aviation Authority Commissioner Andy Savage agrees minority business participation at the airport should be ongoing. Kimpson said the minority ownership of kiosks at the airport is a start that wouldn’t have happened if not for insistence from the public. That insistence now has to ramp up, he said.
“But it’s a process,” Kimpson said. The next step should be to insist that a Black business owner gets a spot in a permanent vending fixture. Additionally, there are all sorts of business opportunities for minority business owners at the airport, Kimpson said. They range from automobile rentals, Information Technology and consulting to the provision of gas and oil. “We’ve got to make sure we don’t miss the opportunities to participate in those businesses,” he said.
An integral part of insuring those opportunities are grasped is identifying and appointing commissioners to the aviation authority, Kimpson said. Four members will be appointed by the Charleston County Legislative Delegation this year, he said. Constituents should impress the importance of those appointments upon their elected representatives, Kimpson said.