Welcome to Memphis International Airport. (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku)

by Dena L. Owens, Special to the New Tri-State Defender

Memphis International Airport (MEM) is undergoing an estimated $245 million transformation.

Funded by federal and state grants, loans and a new one-way $4.50 passenger fee, the project uses no tax dollars and is expected to be completed by 2021.

Construction began in 2018 after city leaders determined major renovations were needed to accommodate more passengers and air services, and rising economic development in Memphis.

With the massive upgrade comes fresh amenities and more opportunities for minority and women-owned business enterprise (MWBE) participation.

When the final result unfolds, the airport will be set for future growth by attracting more airlines, traffic, major events and businesses. MEM will advance from serving 4 million passengers annually to having the capacity to serve 6 million per year.

Modern transformation

Earth is moving on the airport’s $245 million transformation, which is funded without a municipal tax increase. Upgrades are expected to be complete by 2021. Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku)

In less than three years, Concourse B, which is now 55 years old, will offer 23 gates and evolve into a more modern, convenient experience for current and next-generation air travelers.

Past security check points, travelers board flights at Concourses A, B or C, each of which merge into a central cluster of restaurants, bars and shops that are easily accessible to all.

Travelers who enjoy services such as cell phone charging stations, Wi-Fi and quick transport to gates can expect these amenities and more, including child play areas.

Through visual arts, the transformation will celebrate everything that is “Memphis” – the rich history of its people, blues, soul and rock-n-roll music, the world’s best barbeque, the Mississippi River and its position as global distribution center.

Opportunities for minority entrepreneurs

Memphis and Shelby County Airport Authority (MSCAA), the board that directs airport operations and maintenance, is committed to contractor diversity. By holding an annual two-day summit, MSCAA prepares MWBEs for the bidding process.

“Minority, women-owned and disadvantaged businesses are a strength to our community, and our economy needs these businesses to grow and prosper,” says Scott Brockman, MSCAA President and CEO.

MSCAA presented the 2019 Business Diversity Development Summit in April –the next summit will take place in April or May of 2020.

The program teaches MWBE owners about government contracting and how to acquire Small Business Administration certification. Participants are provided instruction on business insurance, marketing, bidding, building capital and accounting, along with one-on-one coaching and information on construction-related federal transportation projects.

“It’s the Airport Authority’s goal to equip all of our attendees with valuable information about doing business with both the airport and other governmental and corporate entities,” Brockman added.

Flintco, a company specializing in commercial and institutional construction, is the Concourse B contractor and selects subcontractors for specific needs.

In 2018, Flintco held an open house for MWBEs on the MSCAA approved list to share how to craft subcontracting proposals. MSCAA set a goal of 26 percent MWBEs for the project – Flintco exceeded that target at 27 percent and spent $28.6 million with 17 minority subcontractors.

Of the 17, 13 were locally owned and paid $27 million.

Minority business owner Derik Forrest, president of Access Builders, said the MSCAA diversity program allowed him to “meet and greet with larger construction companies to present his services.”

Access Builders was subcontracted by Flintco.

“The MSCAA diversity program helped me bid on contracts that I wouldn’t normally be able to compete for,” says Forrest.

Adjustments for travelers

As travelers get ready for summer tourism, MEM has prepared by moving gates, concessions and amenities to Concourses A and C to serve all passengers temporarily while Concourse B is under construction.

MEM faced sharp declines in travelers behind the 2008 merger between Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines — MEM was a longtime hub for NWA with many direct flights before the Delta acquisition. The airport revived by attracting a broader Mid-South region and has seen recent increases in traffic.

For 2018, the midsized airport reported serving 4 million travelers and the number of Spring Break travelers for March 2019 grew 9.1 percent at 194,812 compared to 174,531 the prior year.

Seven airlines serve MEM currently – Allegiant, American, Delta, Envoy, Frontier, Southwest and United.

Finer points of MEM

Memphis International Airport has bounced back after the 2008 Delta-Northwest merger left the airport a virtual ghost town. And thanks to FedEx and UPS, Memphis is North America’s busiest cargo airport. (Photos: Karanja A. Ajanaku)

MEM holds the title as the busiest cargo airport in North America and the second busiest in the world.

In 2018, MEM handled more than 4.47 million metric tons of cargo in 2018, an increase of 3.1 percent compared to 2017.

More than 95 percent of the cargo is credited to Memphis-headquartered FedEx, which flies 400 daily flights that deliver 180,000 packages worldwide. In addition, the upcoming expansion of the airport’s UPS package sorting operation will soon allow 60,000 sorts per hour.

When flying into Memphis at night, travelers have long commented on the scenic beauty of the airport which resembles a vibrant row of champagne glasses. To complement the exterior, the 2021 rehab promises to enhance anyone’s first impression of Memphis through a modernized airport experience.

As airport modernization proceeds, MSCAA requests patience.

(For more information about MEM or the annual Business Diversity Development Summit, visit www.flymemphis.com.)