JFK airport project misrepresented as not allowing bids from white, male-owned businesses

CLAIM: Businesses owned by white men are not allowed to bid on a $2.3 billion grant funding redevelopment of New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The claim distorts an announcement made last month that $2.3 billion in contracts were awarded to minority- and women-owned businesses, commonly referred to as MWBEs, for the airport redevelopment as of February 2024. The $19 billion project has made it a priority to involve certified MWBEs. However, the bidding has been open to all, with non-MWBEs awarded more than $5 billion in contracts as of February 2024, a spokesperson for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs JFK, said.

THE FACTS: Social media users are falsely claiming that certain businesses will be excluded from JFK’s multibillion dollar redevelopment based on the race and gender of their owners.

“New York just announced a historic $2.3 billion tax-funded grant to fix up the JFK International airport. This grant, signed off by Governor Katy Hochul, is exclusively for non-White or women-owned businesses,” reads the post, misspelling the governor’s first name, Kathy.

The post goes on to say, “This is FOR US, and made BY US,” misquoting a comment by New York Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman, who is Black, discussing the funding.

Other posts allege that the $2.3 billion represents the entire cost of the project, of which non-MWBEs will have no part.

“New York is BLOCKING white-owned businesses from bidding on the $2.3 billion renovation of JFK Airport. What does that sound like?” said an X post, which had received approximately 15,000 likes and 7,700 shares.

Both posts, along with other similar ones, included a clip of Hyndman, speaking at a recent press conference about the project.

“We knew it was for us,” she says, referencing meetings that helped to ensure the participation of MWBEs. “For us, by us, to make sure that this community that we represent looks like us.”

But these claims are distorting the announcement made at the April press conference. The $19 billion redevelopment has made it a priority to hire certified MWBEs, but does not include a $2.3 billion grant earmarked for such businesses and has already awarded billions of dollars in contracts to non-MWBEs.

The $2.3 billion refers to the amount in contracts that had been awarded to MWBEs as of February 2024. In 2018, based on disparity studies conducted by the Port Authority, the agency’s board of commissioners instituted a participation goal of 20% minority-owned businesses and 10% women-owned businesses on all contracts and projects, which includes the JFK redevelopment.

“This is a misrepresentation of our recent announcement regarding contract awards for the John F. Kennedy International Airport Redevelopment,” Port Authority spokesperson Tom Topousis told The Associated Press in an email. “Our effort to increase MWBE participation at JFK to 30 percent is focused on expanding opportunities to all, not to limit them and to increase competitiveness, not reduce it.”

He added that “these companies have all been carefully vetted and chosen through fair processes where numerous firms compete on price and service qualifications.”

Non-MWBEs are not restricted from bidding on the airport contracts. Such businesses had been awarded more than $5 billion in contracts as of February 2024, according to Topousis. The project is also prioritizing contracts with local businesses, regardless of race or gender.

In New York, to be certified as an MWBE a business must be at least 51% owned, operated and controlled by citizens or permanent residents who are either of an ethnic minority, a woman, or both. Ethnic minorities that qualify under this definition include Black, Hispanic, Asian-Pacific, Asian-Indian Subcontinent, Native American and Alaskan Native.

The JFK redevelopment project offers MWBEs and local businesses access to networking events, business development sessions and other opportunities intended to increase their participation.

Private investors building or expanding terminals are footing $15 billion of the redevelopment costs, while the Port Authority — a self-funding agency that does not receive tax revenue — is putting up $3.9 billion for airport roads and infrastructure, according to Topousis. Participation goals related to MWBEs also extend to the JFK project’s private partners.

“The $2.3 billion in contracts to MWBEs is not a public grant, but rather contracts awarded on a competitive basis to minority- and women-owned businesses at the JFK Redevelopment Program,” Topousis wrote. “The vast majority of those contracts are awarded by the private sponsors developing new terminals.”

Chris Dempsey, a founding partner at urban design firm Speck Dempsey, told the AP that it is common for major projects such as the JFK redevelopment to incentivize the participation of MWBEs. He has been involved in public procurement — the purchase of goods or services by public authorities — for nearly 20 years, both as a public official and as a leader in the private sector.

“These approaches are quite common in the New York market and in many other markets in the country,” Dempsey wrote in an email. “They have been in place for decades, and have survived through both Democratic and Republican gubernatorial administrations.”
This is part of the AP’s effort to address widely shared false and misleading information that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.

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