White-owned businesses boxed out from $2.3 billion in contracts to renovate JFK International Airport

News & Politics

Leaders in New York City and throughout New York state have celebrated an initiative by the New York Port Authority to reserve a sizeable portion of the nearly $20 billion renovation project at JFK International Airport for businesses owned by women and non-white men.

“What we didn’t want to happen is to go back to the community … and people look at us and say, ‘Well, what did you do? No one on that project looks like us. No one in that project represents us,'” she said.

The plan to renovate JFK airport was announced all the way back in 2017 and will cost an estimated $19 billion, which will be paid for by both public and private funds. Of that $19 billion, renovation contracts worth a total of $2.3 billion have been reserved for MWBEs — minority- and women-owned business enterprises — as part of Democrat Gov. Kathy Hochul’s goal of increasing state partnerships with MWBEs. Thus far, 680 MWBEs have been awarded contracts for the JFK renovation project.

“New York remains committed to providing travellers with a premier experience that includes world-class amenities and record involvement by local minority- and women-owned businesses will ensure just that,” Hochul said in a statement. “This transformative project uplifts these businesses and deepens investments in the community while bolstering the state workforce.”

Indeed, the Port Authority has openly embraced “a progressive diversity and inclusion initiative” which aims to increase “contract participation” with MWBEs, its website says. More specifically, by 2030, the agency hopes to have minority-owned businesses represent 20% of its contract partners and women-owned businesses represent another 10%. It is unclear how businesses owned by female racial minorities might be categorized.

White-owned businesses may not have been entirely excluded from bidding on contracts related to the JFK airport renovation. The Port Authority has also worked with Queens-based businesses — some of which may be owned by white men — awarding approximately 200 of them some $950 million in JFK-related contracts.

However, even the agency’s commitment to working with local businesses has still been touted as a form of minority outreach. Adrienne Adams, speaker of the New York City Council, claimed that the JFK renovation project has always been focused on “advanc[ing] more equitable contracting” in a way that will benefit “M/WBE firms, local small businesses, and Southeast Queens residents.”

Likewise, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards indicated that the goal was not just to work with Queens-based businesses but to assist the “thousands of Queens residents from historically marginalized communities who call the airport their workplace.”

Congressman Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) expressed a similar sentiment. “I understand the importance of creating wealth-building and entrepreneurial opportunities for individuals who have historically faced barriers,” he said.

At an event to mark the $2.3 billion in MWBE contracts, state Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman suggested that the racial makeup of the individuals and businesses working on the renovation is very important to her constituents. “What we didn’t want to happen is to go back to the community … and people look at us and say, ‘Well, what did you do? No one on that project looks like us. No one in that project represents us,'” she said.

“For us, by us,” she continued, perhaps gesturing to FUBU, a popular hip-hop apparel manufacturer, “to make sure that this community that we represent looks like us.”

With $2.3 billion in contracts for MWBEs, the JFK renovation project surpasses the state’s previous record of $2.2 billion in public-private contracts with MWBEs set by those in charge of renovating nearby LaGuardia Airport. The JFK renovation project is scheduled to be completed sometime in 2028.

“The Port Authority is committed to supporting inclusiveness in the design, financing, construction and operation of our major redevelopment projects across the region by setting ambitious goals for MWBE participation,” said Port Authority Chairman Kevin O’Toole. “Just as we’ve done at Newark-Liberty’s new Terminal A and at LaGuardia Airport, JFK’s redevelopment is a game-changer for MWBE firms that were too often left on the side lines during these historic capital projects.”

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