Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) establishes a new model for hiring local, diverse teams to work on the upgrade of LAX and Van Nuys airports, write Chris Robert, Jon Philips and Anne Fletcher.
As the aviation industry begins to awaken after a tumultuous year, we can come back stronger than we were before, particularly when it comes to diversity and inclusion.
In Los Angeles, the city’s travel infrastructure will face its next big challenge as the host city for the 2028 Summer Olympics, with an anticipated influx of people from around the world.
The 2016 Summer Olympics drew over 10,000 athletes and 500,000 attendees to Rio, and the event brings unparalleled economic activity to each region that ripples across the travel and local business community.
To prepare for this major event, Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), the owner and operator of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and Van Nuys Airport (VNY), has created a new solution to streamline the capital investments required over the next seven years to build up capacity.
This solution provides an equitable process that includes an array of companies and small, local, disabled veterans’ and other diverse firms to tap into this significant economic opportunity in a number of ways.
At the core of the solution, LAWA created a single, consolidated on-call vehicle with the most progressive inclusion minimums in their history. HOK and Arup now serve as Principal Architect and Principal Engineer to implement a variety of large and small projects for LAWA over the next three years.
The larger HOK+Arup Joint Venture (JV) team comprises 47 partners, 30 of which are small, local and minority-owned businesses (MWBEs) in the Los Angeles area, who will work on the design and planning of projects that directly shape the future for both the region and their communities for the 2028 Olympics and beyond.
The approach that Arup+HOK took not only presents a way for LAWA to modernise and improve its airports for travellers and employees, but also as a way to engage more directly and thoughtfully with small, local, disabled veterans’ and other diverse firms.
Currently, there is an opportunity for further inclusion of diverse and local businesses in the aviation planning space, and the process conducted by Arup+HOK has the potential to serve as a model and fill those gaps.
It can be adapted in airports around the country to expand the diversity of their collaborations, which benefits a region’s key infrastructure and greater community through employment opportunities, building regional capacity and retention of capital in local and regional economies.
To achieve such a diverse group of companies, the JV partnered with Chris Robert, president and founder of The Robert Group, to develop a deliberate outreach plan to target as many local companies as possible.
Working with Chris, HOK+Arup sought a minimum of six core companies with specialties, a minimum of six integrated local and small business partners and dozens of specialty consultants.
These specialty consultants hail from a variety of industries such as public health and industry advising, baggage handling systems, cost estimating, signage and wayfinding, simulations and modelling, sustainability and commercial development.
This includes core disciplines like building systems engineers, traffic engineers, architects, airfield & civil engineers, specialty consultants, airport planners and technology & innovation experts.
With a determined team structure in place, our team held an online information session for small, local, disabled veterans’ and other diverse firms in the area. The biggest challenges during outreach was having no central list or directory of certified local businesses from which to pull and, due to the pandemic, no in-person events.
In October 2020, we announced a 90-minute virtual information session to discuss how firms could join one of Los Angeles’ most important infrastructure projects over the next decade.
Promotion began through email blasts and social media posts, particularly on LinkedIn, to find business organisations who could circulate the opportunity.
A wide net of business groups included LA Area Chamber, Latino Chambers, National Association of Women Business Owners, Los Angeles Business Council, BizFed, Greater Los Angeles African American Chamber, Culver City Chamber, Inglewood Chamber, El Segundo Chamber and LAX Coastal Chamber to identify an array of local businesses and diverse voices.
We identified 1,621 relevant companies in Los Angeles, which resulted in 396 people registering and 294 joining the 90-minute Webex event. Following the event, attendees were sent an exit poll offering a 15-minute one-on-one meeting with either Arup or HOK, which 211 requested.
The meetings consisted of a guided discussion and questions for the JV team to assess for LAWA projects. Nearly 127 meetings were completed by December 1, 2020, augmenting information from local databases with our own outreach and engagement to certified local businesses in the area for the team to keep on file for future collaborations.
Our efforts aided in the eventual gaining of 47 partners including 30 small, local and minority businesses to work on projects across LAX and VNY.
The strategic event, and the preparation in the lead up to it, were necessary to expand the search for MWBEs and can serve as a model for how airports across the United States can enhance the diversity of their consultants, vendors and partners.
Additionally, to further elevate the priority of small, local, disabled veterans’ and other diverse firms in the on-call’s various contracts, Chris Robert was appointed as a key participant at the leadership level of the team.
Both LAWA and the HOK+Arup JV have demonstrated how a commitment to expanding the pool of qualified small, local, disabled veterans’ and other diverse firms and engaging them in substantial roles can serve as a catalyst to overcoming established barriers.
Now is the time for airport operators to put in the effort required to enhance local and minority owned businesses for infrastructure projects that build up the surrounding community.