By Mike Gula, Executive Director of Columbia Metropolitan Airport
As we enter the last week of a too short holiday recognizing and celebrating Black trailblazers, leaders and change makers, I wanted to take a moment and shed light on a longstanding and intentional effort that makes me deeply proud to serve as the executive director of the Columbia Metropolitan Airport (CAE).
Opportunity is something that not every person, company or small business is always afforded. Many times, opportunities are learned about after the bidding process has closed and the submission deadlines have passed.
Within the aviation industry, there is a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) mandate that asks airports nationwide to employ at least 10% certified Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBE) every year. CAE set a goal of 11.20% (on FAA projects) to employ DBE annually – minority, small and women-owned businesses. CAE has been the leader among airports in South Carolina in employing DBEs for various operational functions, both inside and across the airport campus.
As a founding member of the SC Airports Coalition – a group of airports including CAE, CHS, GSP and MYR – CAE works to provide opportunities for minority, small, local and DBE/ACDBE (Airport Concessions) business owners at different airports with outreach opportunities and events, called DBE Fly-Ins. At the largest SC Airports Coalition DBE Fly-Ins, held in 2018/2019, over $2 billion dollars of opportunities were presented to business owners.
Since 2011, CAE has hired DBEs in nearly every department:
- In the marketing department, we’ve hired Exousia Marketing Group, and Aviatrix for various event support, while continuing to use Flock & Rally for media buying,
- Our operations department recently hired, Midlands Pavement Marking for a runway painting project,
- Throughout the numerous projects that the facilities, maintenance and planning department work on, they have hired Premier and IPW as building contract support, Sims Fuel, 1×1 Design, L.A. Barrier & Son, Inc. and Ohmega Group Consulting, Inc., to name a few. For the 2016 – 2018 renovation of the terminal, IPW was the general contractor, the first time a federally funded project at CAE was primed by a DBE.
- And public safety has worked with Inspectors Fire and Safety Equipment for required extinguisher inspections and safety checks.
In 2019, 16% of CAE’s available spending was with DBEs; and another 40% of available spending was with minority and women-owned businesses. CAE’s DBE program, which was documented as a case study for success, was featured in the national publication, “American DBE Magazine” in the spring of 2020.
Opening opportunities to as many as possible is something we have found to be mutually beneficial. Diverse perspectives are heard, inclusive collaboration happen and meaningful lessons are learned.
Throughout this month on our social media channels, we have elevated, highlighted and identified numerous stories of Black pioneers within aviation. On a similar accord, I always want to ensure I highlight the work of our Black, Indigenous, People of Color team members here at CAE.
In recent years CAE has made aggressive efforts in its diversity and inclusion in its hiring practices. To date, of our 62 employees, 37% of the workforce are minorities or BIPOC, with 31% being female. Of our female staff, nine serve in leadership roles or hold executive staff positions.
These efforts haven’t gone unnoticed as Airports Council International-North America named CAE the Excellence in Workplace Diversity award winner, as well as the Inclusion Champion for Small Hub Airports.
Small, intentional changes over time turn into every day ways of working. This commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, in regards to CAE’s employment opportunities and staff, is one of many commitments that will always continue to evolve, but one that will always remain.
For more information about the Columbia Metropolitan Airport, please visit www.flycae.com. To add your DBE to the CAE prospect list, please https://flycae.com/business/disadvantaged-business-enterprise-program-dbe/.
Mike Gula has served as the Executive Director of the Columbia Metropolitan Airport for the last three years. His passion for aviation began at an early age and as a college student, he dreamed of becoming a pilot. He lives in Lexington with his wife and two small children.