By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader
They came with portfolios, business plans and big dreams of reaping big dollars at the Gary/Chicago International Airport.
While it was an opportunity for interviews and business pitches, it was also a time where nearly 70 minority firms aimed to test a historic plan by the Gary Airport Authority, which seeks to promote diversity and inclusion in airport contracts.
The Black-owned businesses attended a business expo at the facility on Tuesday, March 8, hoping to be picked by one of three prime contractors who are competing for a lucrative deal at Chicago’s ‘third busiest airport.”
It was a morning filled with high hopes, and networking as three prominent contractors aimed to find subcontractors from a crowd of Black-owned firms offering a variety of services from real estate consulting to design planning.
The Black-owned firms sought to impress, C&S, Jacobsen Daniels and Landrum-Brown, which are three finalists competing to land a deal to be the airport’s primary contractor. The winner will have the opportunity to help develop future projects at the airport.
As part of the deal, the airport authority required the firm to subcontract with a minority in Gary as a way to boost the facility’s commitment to local hiring in the city.
Airport Chairman Stephen Mays said for nearly 50 years local firms were left out of the process of awarding contracts with the facility.
Mays said as part of the procurement process, he made sure that a local participation requirement was set in place to promote diversity.
“How can I be chairman of the board and not do that?
“Local businesses were not at the table. When I looked at how we were doing business with contractors, it did not make any sense.”
Mays said the requirement would help locals earn a share of economic opportunities that will come as more development projects attract business to the airport.
Local hiring has been a longstanding concern to business owners in Gary. Some still remember being shut out when developers built the Majestic Star Casino facility in Buffington Harbor. There is still concern that many locals will not be hired to help build the new Arts and Sciences building on the campus of the University of the Indiana Northwest.
In a statement, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said the event is important for Gary residents.
“As we begin planning for long term development at the airport, it’s important for Gary businesses to be a part of that process,” the mayor stated. “It is a priority of my administration to leverage the airport as an economic engine and job creator for Gary.”
At the business expo, the firms spoke with local business owners and handed out literature about their company. Many locals waited in lines to speak to push their businesses.
One of them, Lynn Carter, owner and CEO of Professional Realty, a real estate firm, was impressed by the event.
I thought it was informative,” she said. “It was good to come and get first-hand information. I think this is great for the community.”
Carter said she believes her services are needed because she has experience in land acquisitions, an area the airport may explore as it seeks to grow.
Diana Hennington, president and CEO of Grand Events, a community outreach firm, interviewed with all three firms.
“It’s good to have an opportunity to talk about your business,” Hennington said.”
For Daryl Crockett, who owns the design firm DC Design, Landrum-Brown, a firm that helps build and design airport terminals, was the most impressive of three finalists.
“They were more revealing,” Crockett said. It was clear that they thought about what steps they would take if they won the contract.
Dr. Vanessa Allen, president of the Urban League of Northwest Indiana, attended the business expo on Tuesday. While she was pleased with the event, Allen remains cautious.
“I think it was very informative,” she said. “The organizations are answering a lot of questions, but the proof will be in the pudding. You can say one thing, but it’s all about action.”
The three finalists will make their local subcontractor known during a presentation to the Gary Airport Authority on March 29, said Dan Vicario, executive director.
Since opening its extended runways last July, cargo flights have increased at the airport. The facility also generates revenue from private charter flights.
Currently, the airport is seeking to build a customs international facility to boost business and prevent flights from stopping at other airports to have their cargo inspected.
With the progress the airport has made in recent years, Vicari said it was time to update the Master Plan, which was last revised in 2001. That plan called for several major projects, including a $174 million runway expansion project.