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$2.3 Billion Tax-Funded Grant to Renovate JFK International Airport Awarded Exclusively to Minority and Women-Owned Enterprises

Assemblymember Alicia Hyndman during the press conference (Credit: Port Authority New York & New Jersey)

Governor Kathy Hochul announced that a $2.3 billion tax-funded grant in redevelopment contracts for JFK International Airport has been awarded exclusively to minority and women-owned business enterprises (MWBE).

MWBE stands for Minority/Women-Owned Business Enterprise. It’s a certification issued by the state that gives developmental benefits to businesses that are primarily owned and operated by a woman or a person who is at least 25% African American, Asian, Hispanic, or Native American. If the business is publicly traded, the stock must also be at least 51% minority-owned.

The move, which marks the largest participation of MWBE firms in any public-private partnership in New York’s history, has been praised by many for its focus on inclusivity.

However, some are questioning whether the DEI criteria could inadvertently sideline other considerations crucial to project success, such as experience, efficiency, and past performance.

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

However, while the $2.3 billion allocation reflects a dedication to DEI, it is essential to question whether these contracts have been awarded based on merit or solely on MWBE criteria.

The Port Authority aims for a 30% MWBE participation rate in all capital projects, aligning with Governor Hochul’s ambitious utilization goals. While this may seem laudable on the surface, critics argue that prioritizing contracts based on DEI targets risks excluding qualified companies that fall outside these demographic groups. Concerns arise that the strict emphasis on DEI may overlook the merit and experience of other firms that could deliver equal or greater value to the redevelopment project.

According to the press release:

With today’s announcement JFK surpasses the LaGuardia Airport redevelopment, which set the previous New York State record for MWBE participation in a public-private project with $2.2 billion in contracts awarded. As the $19 billion JFK project moves forward, additional contracts with MWBE firms will be awarded to meet with the Port Authority’s goal of 30 percent MWBE participation for the agency’s capital projects, consistent with Governor Hochul’s nation-leading goals for MWBE utilization in state projects.

The Port Authority is working closely with its private terminal developer partners – the New Terminal One, Delta Air Lines and JFKIAT, JFK Millennium Partners, and American Airlines – to engage minority and women-owned businesses along with local businesses in every aspect of the redevelopment program. To date, 680 MWBEs have been awarded contracts at JFK along with more than 200 businesses based in Queens.

To increase MWBE participation at the JFK Redevelopment Program, and across the agency, the Port Authority and its private terminal partners at JFK hosted a variety of capacity-building and technical training programs that prepared firms to be successful in navigating what can at times be complex airport-related procurements.

These programs include an academy for principals at architecture and engineering firms, contractor coaching programs that train firms to apply for contracts and construction mentoring programs that recruit, train and mentor MWBE firms to bid on large public construction projects, and project readiness bootcamps. The redevelopment team has also sponsored hundreds of seminars, webinars and forums to help firms become MWBE certified, meet and network with prime contractors, and build the skill sets needed to be successful in the field.

Assemblymember Alicia Hyndman praised the initiative, saying, “Governor Hochul’s commitment to diversity and inclusion in public-private partnerships sets a new standard for New York State. The record-breaking $2.3 billion in contracts awarded at JFK Airport, with substantial participation from MWBE firms, underscores the importance of equitable opportunities in major infrastructure projects. As an Assemblywoman representing Queens, I’m proud to see local businesses thriving, with nearly $1 billion in contracts awarded to Queens-based firms. This achievement not only surpasses past milestones but sets a precedent for future developments, ensuring that MWBE participation continues to break records as we work towards the substantial completion of JFK’s redevelopment in 2028.”

During a press conference, Hyndman added, “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.’ We did not want to have those conversations. That’s why those tireless meetings that took place on Zoom, whether it was Microsoft, Webex, or whatever it was, weren’t working. Your bandwidth was low, and you had to turn off the camera or turn off the mic. As annoying as it was, we knew it was for us, by us, to make sure that this community that we represent looks like us.”

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