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A Billion-Dollar Runway for Small Firms: How TIA's Master Plan is All-Inclusive
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A Billion-Dollar Runway for Small Firms: How TIA's Master Plan is All-Inclusive

Frances McMorris - Tampa Bay Business Journal

For Derek Mateos, the ongoing expansion at Tampa International Airport has meant more than just new flights and destinations; it has opened a world of opportunity and growth for his business.

 

“We poured the first bit of concrete on this billion-dollar project,” said the locally-based, Cuban-American entrepreneur and president of Matcon Construction Services Inc. His firm is one of 145 minority- or women-owned businesses participating in the nearly $1 billion master plan that will ensure the growth of Tampa Bay’s main airport.

 

“We’ve been out here for three years doing the tunnel work,” Mateos said.

 

To be sure that women and minority-owned firms got a piece of that very large pie, airport officials reached out to them with a $123 million goal in mind. With the help of their major contractors, TIA has blown past that goal and is set to award approximately $164 million to these companies as part of the massive expansion.

 

TIA has already paid out $102 million to these firms, said Elita McMillon, the airport’s director of ethics, diversity and administration. With commitments from the major general contractors, particularly Skanska and Austin Commercial, McMillon said, women and minority-owned businesses are thriving in the airport’s expansion plan.

 

“We have a lot of quality woman- and minority-owned businesses locally that we wanted to be part of our historic expansion and, early on, we made a commitment to invite as many businesses as we could to be part of the work,” said Al Illustrato, the airport’s executive vice president of facilities and administration. That meant targeted outreach, especially at the start of the project, to spread community awareness about the opportunities.

 

“It also took the buy-in of our primary contractors, who we tasked to carry out our vision. We believe that the involvement of a wide range of businesses from the community and state is crucial to the success of the project,” Illustrato said.

 

Participation in the airport master plan means greater visibility and sophistication for businesses on the roster. Some have gained more confidence about business development and are now going after bigger and more lucrative jobs.

 

About 30 years ago, the U.S. Congress established federal contract inclusion goals for various socioeconomic categories of small businesses, such as those that are women-owned and service-disabled veteran-owned.

 

For airports, the aspirational goal for awarding contracts to women and minority-owned businesses is 10 percent, said Deborah McElroy, executive vice president at Airports Council International-North America. Each airport that receives federal funding is required to set a goal for getting historically disadvantaged communities into the pipeline.

 

At approximately $164 million, TIA is $41 million ahead of that aspirational 10 percent goal, hitting 16 percent.

 

One reason for that success was the fact that the airport, in conjunction with its large general contractors, held nine outreach sessions for these companies, with another three focused on the new concessions, beginning in 2013.

 

But it’s about more than meeting numbers.

 

Airports that meet and exceed their goals do so “because they have aggressive staff that are committed to diversity and inclusion,” said Krystal J. Brumfield, president and CEO of the Airport Minority Advisory Council.

 

McElroy agrees. TIA’s CEO Joe Lopano and his senior staff “don’t view this as ‘check the box’ for federal compliance,” she said. “One of the challenges is that the contract may be too big for a small company to undertake,” McElroy said. To help, TIA officials “break down contracts in smaller pieces so that companies can participate.”

 

Consider Dan Fernandez, the founder of McKenzie Contracting LLC, who relocated nine years ago from New England and now finds himself with $1.8 million worth of work at TIA. His firm installed new storm and water lines and relocated storm sewers and drain lines. It also did all the underground utilities for the people mover that will run from the main terminal to the rental car facility and the parking garage.

 

“I was absolutely flabbergasted when I got a phone call and got a chance to compete against one of the biggest players and the old-time crowd that’s been here for years and years,” Fernandez said. “God was good and we ended up being the low bidder.”

 

In doing the airport work, Fernandez had to ramp up his business. “The paperwork alone was so intense, I had to hire three people,” he said.

 

Fernandez credits the outreach of one of the main general contractors — Austin Commercial, a subsidiary of Dallas-based Austin Industries, which also used Ariel Business Group, a consultant that specializes in the development and implementation of women and minority-owned compliance programs and certification. TIA chose Austin to build the $500 million consolidated rental car center and automated people mover.

 

“It was a blessing that they had the outreach because at the end of the day we got a chance to bid on the project,” Fernandez said. “It was a real big shot in the arm. That job was our largest project and at the end of the day it opened up a lot of other work.”

 

Among those new opportunities for Fernandez was renovation work at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, calling for him to hire another 10 employees. He is also bidding on a $1.5 million job in Safety Harbor.

 

Finally, he said, “I can now bid directly to the TIA as a general contractor and municipalities.” The TIA work “put us in the game.”

 

Besides Austin, another general contractor taking the initiative on outreach was Skanska USA, which has a “construction management building blocks training program” that it uses to help women and minority-owned firms enhance technical, administrative and managerial skills. As McElory noted, Skanska’s procurement team broke up the bid packages into smaller components so local contractors would have more chances to bid.

 

Mateos said his firm got into the airport as a subcontractor for Skanska doing west side concrete and column wraps for more than a year and a half.

 

Matcon reported $6.34 million in 2016 revenue on TBBJ’s list of Hispanic-owned businesses. While that’s down from $8.14 million in 2015, he is now working on several other projects at the airport. His company just finished working on the newly opened Marché C on Airside C. Later, he was hired directly by SSP America to work on six food concepts.

 

“Now, we’re doing three more [airport] projects for HMS Host for Burger 21, the Host offices and their support space,” Mateos said.

 

“We qualify all our potential subcontractors,” said Ray D’Ambola, regional director of design and construction for SSP America, one of the main contractors on the concessions side of the airport expansion. It starts the process of finding the firms by “basically reaching out to local businesses,” D’Ambola said. “You find out along the way that it’s a minority-owned or woman-owned. A lot of times you just stumble upon it. Tampa was pretty easy because you don’t have a lot of union restraints.”

 

For firms that haven’t done work at airports before, firms like SSP America will “sponsor them through the badging process,” D’Ambola said. “They branch out and get more and more work. Matcon is doing very well. They’re getting an excellent reputation throughout the airport.”

 

Other opportunities for these companies came from longtime relationships.

 

In the case of Linda Cox, CEO of Cox Fire Protection, Skanska has been her largest client for years, so it made sense that the firm used her company to do the fire sprinkler systems at the airport. Her company now is working with Skanska on renovations throughout the main terminal. Cox has also done lots of build-outs, including work on new restaurants in the main terminal — the Hard Rock Café, Four Green Fields and P.F. Chang’s, as well Airsides C and F.

 

Cox has been in business since 1985, starting the company with her husband before fully coming on board in the 1990s and finally becoming CEO in 2006.

 

“It’s also been nice, steady smaller projects for the last year,” Cox said. Like the other companies that have gotten a piece of the TIA master plan, she said: “It’s been an amazing journey for us.”

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