BY BENJAMIN FANG
The Port Authority’s JFK Redevelopment project opened its Jamaica outreach office in March to ensure that the local community benefits from the $13 billion program.
While still relatively early in the redevelopment process –– shovels are not expected to go into the ground until next year –– the team is already ramping up its services and outreach to both area businesses and the local workforce.
Selvena Brooks-Powers, manager of External Affairs and Community Outreach, said they came on board before the governor announced the two terminal developers.
“We’ve been able to engage in a lot of conversations to build from the ground up, as opposed to coming in later into the process,” she said. “I think that’s been helpful.”
One of the main ways the project focuses on community needs is by adopting a 30 percent utilization goal of Minority and Women Business Enterprises (MWBEs), which applies to both contracts and financing interests.
According to Nantasha Williams, co-manager of External Affairs and Community Outreach, the team will place an emphasis and priority on MWBE firms from the communities surrounding the airport.
The same priority will apply to the local workforce when making hires, whether it’s for the construction or operation of the two new terminals.
Williams said the JFK Redevelopment is the first and largest project that is subject to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 30 percent MWBE goal. She hopes it will set a precedent for the future.
“We’re really giving opportunities to MWBE firms locally, allowing them to scale up their businesses,” she said, “and be able to work on a project that could elevate or escalate their existing work portfolio.”
Brooks-Powers said there has already been a lot of interest from the business community, whether it’s the food industry or construction firms. The Jamaica outreach office has already hosted several professional service roundtables focusing on sectors like real estate, accounting and attorneys.
“Everyone wants to be part of it,” she said.
To facilitate the process, Brooks-Powers and Williams have been hosting bi-monthly certification training for local small MWBE firms. To be counted toward that 30 percent goal, participating businesses have to be a certified MWBE either with the Port Authority or with the state.
Early on, the redevelopment team has also connected the developers with local businesses to discuss their timelines, their needs and what firms can do to prepare to win those contracts.
Brooks-Powers noted that the terminal developers, Terminal One Group Association and JetBlue, have worked closely with the outreach office and attended all of the advisory council meetings.
The terminal developers have also hosted their own events. JetBlue recently organized a meet-and-greet for design-builders, while Terminal One Group Association had an event focused on demolition.
“It’s helping these businesses get in the right position to go after the opportunities,” she said.
The JFK Redevelopment team has also looked internally at the many barriers that MWBEs face, and figuring out ways to get rid of those obstacles, which include access to capital and insurance.
Williams said sometime their own internal processes might be “a little cumbersome.” She also noted that there can be a “general bias” in contracting and procurement, which the Port Authority’s chief diversity officer has been seeking to address.
They’re figuring out ways to “break out” large contracts, which would allow smaller firms to bid on portions of a big project that they wouldn’t normally have access to.
For Brooks-Powers, they are focused on building capacity in the community and making sure they have enough notice for opportunities coming up.
That’s why the redevelopment project formed an advisory council made up of local elected officials, community board representatives, civic groups, business organizations and faith-based leaders.
“We don’t want the community to miss the opportunities,” she said. “We want them to definitely be a part of this.”
The Port Authority is currently in the middle of lease negotiations with developers, Brooks-Powers said. They expect construction to start in 2020, with an anticipated completion date in 2025.
“This is one of the largest infrastructure programs taking place right now in the country,” she added. “Our community gets to be part of it.”
“We’re really here as a resource, this office is your office, in a sense,” Williams added. “We want to make sure we’re out there in the community, servicing the individual, the business and institutions in the community.”
The JFK Redevelopment Community Information Center is located at 144-33 Jamaica Avenue and open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except Thursdays when it is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information, call (718) 244-3834 or visit anewjfk.com.