BY BENJAMIN FANG
As the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey continues its $21 billion transformation of both New York City airports, the agency is paying special attention to Queens communities.
Whether it’s contracting, concessions or hiring, Port Authority executive director Rick Cotton said, the emphasis is local.
“We are taking very focused and high-priority measures to assure the economic benefits accrue to the Queens neighborhoods around the airports,” he told This Is Queensborough in a recent interview at the agency’s offices on the 24th floor of 4 World Trade Center.
According to the Port Authority’s count, nearly $400 million worth of business contracts, particularly in construction, have gone to Queens companies.
“Obviously, we’re in the middle of the construction process,” Cotton said, “so we anticipate that number will grow.”
Last December, when LaGuardia Airport opened its new 18-gate concourse on the western half of the new terminal, more than 60 percent of the 400 concessions jobs went to Queens residents. At the seven-gate eastern concourse, opened at the end of October, more than 80 percent of the 120 jobs were local hires. Beyond the concessions, Cotton said, the Port Authority has been working with the Council on Airport Opportunities (CAO) to ensure that there’s a local outreach partner.
The agency has already opened an office, in partnership with Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS), at Elmcor Youth and Adult Activities in Corona. The office provides a pipeline for Queens residents to stay abreast of and be hired for job openings, Cotton said. Another community focus of the airport redevelopment projects has been education.
The LaGuardia Redevelopment program, for example, has been working with Vaughn College to recruit students living in neighborhoods around the airport. In April, Vaughn College awarded six scholarships to students from Queens. The scholarships were sponsored by the Port Authority.
“We intend to sponsor another round of those scholarships,” Cotton said.
This past summer, the agency sponsored a new science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) program at Langston Hughes Library for 50 middle-school students. The program introduced them to career paths that could lead to employment opportunities at the airports. For the John F. Kennedy (JFK) Airport redevelopment, the Port Authority established an advisory council of local stakeholders to identify neighborhood priorities. The council is co-chaired by Borough President Melinda Katz and Congressman Gregory Meeks.
Cotton said the council established four areas where they wanted to see additional economic activity, which were announced last month. The first is a jobs recruiting program for southeast Queens, with the target of 15,000 operating jobs at the airport and 4,000 construction jobs over a five-year period. The hiring effort will be based out of the CAO office in Jamaica.