Featured Image Credit: Liz Segrist
South Carolina Senator Marlon Kimpson has brought attention to the lack of minority-owned firms, especially African American businesses, in the Charleston airport. He is asking the Charleston County Aviation Authority to set up a committee to add these minority-owned firms in two vacant retail slots to the Charleston airport, the busiest in the state.
The Democratic senator said in a letter to board members, “The obvious lack of ethnic minority businesses inside the airport brings into question your commitment to inclusionary practices,” referencing how there is not a single African American-owned or -operated business in the Charleston airport.
A fellow state lawmaker and Aviation Authority CEO Paul Campbell responded with a plan to offer opportunities to minorities. It includes opening five kiosk stands throughout the terminal comprised of qualified businesses, some of them minority-owned. If these kiosks see a success in sales, the second part of the plan would be to move into the two vacant storefronts located beyond the security checkpoint.
This two-step plan takes into account the expenses of moving a vendor into these spaces. A business owner will have to invest around $500,000 upfront, not to mention the money it will take to stock the store. Campbell explained this carefully thought out process saying, “I don’t want to set someone up for failure. Let’s make sure they have a product that sells.” The first kiosk could open as early as December.
With this plan put in place, Kimpson doesn’t believe the plan goes far enough to produce a payback, pointing out that, “Kiosk space is not a substitute for a retail opportunity.” While Kimpson is focused on opportunities for African-American-owned, local businesses, he believes they could partner with outside firms to afford the up-fit costs.
Airport board member Andy Savage is all for Kimpson’s proposal but voiced his concern that the senator and Legislature did not appoint more minorities to the airport board. North Charleston Police Department spokesman Spencer Pryor is currently the only African-American on the airport board. The Legislature appoints more than half of the 11 Aviation Authority board members while the House and the Senate each appoint three members.
Board chairman Billy Swails said he would consider appointing a committee to look into Kimpson’s request and has also been urged by Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg to start advertising the empty retail spaces now. They are located near the entrance to Concourse B and will hopefully bring in more income for the airport.