Magazine article Black Enterprise

Aim High: Airport Entrepreneurs Soar without Leaving the Ground

Magazine article Black Enterprise

Aim High: Airport Entrepreneurs Soar without Leaving the Ground

Article excerpt


AS A SHUTTLE BUS DRIVER AT WESTCHESTER COUNTY Airport in White Plains, New York, Cedric Nelson took note of the entrepreneurs doing business there every day. So, he asked how he too could get in on the action. "[The airport manager] told me to send him a letter," says Nelson. "I did, and his office sent me an RFP" With the RFP--or request for proposal--and $40,000 in personal savings and loans, Nelson opened a gift store and quickly discovered that the airport was a lucrative place to set up shop.

'Airports tend to be the economic engines of their communities, and that translates into quite a bit of money;' says Nedra Farrar-Luten, chair of the Airport Minority Advisory Council, a nonprofit organization in Arlington, Virginia. Today, Nelson owns two shoe shine stands in three airports and co-owns two news and gift shops. In all, Nelson's airport-based ventures brought in $1.5 million in revenues in 2007.

And it's not just concession businesses that are profitable. Construction, architectural, parking, and janitorial firms are just a few of the types of companies needed to keep an airport up and running.

For African American business owners, airport opportunities are numerous partly because of the Federal Aviation Administration's Disadvantaged Business Enterprises program, DBE which requires airports that receive Department of Transportation funding to award 10% of those funds to economically and socially disadvantaged businesses.

"The main purpose of the program is to make sure there's a level playing field," says Michael Freilich, national external program manager in civil rights for the FAA. …

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