Government & Politics

Kansas City Black Chamber says KCI developer hires too few minorities and women

Far too few of the contractors hired to build the new single terminal at Kansas City International Airport are owned by either minorities or women, a group representing black business owners claims.

In a statement released Monday, leaders are demanding a review of contracting procedures and more oversight from the city, saying the terminal’s developer, Edgemoor Infrastructure & Real Estate, and a city department are overstating project managers’ success in hiring business that aren’t owned by white men.

“The deceptive reporting practices must stop immediately, and an equitable solution that benefits and transforms minority businesses and workers as promised must be found,” said Kelvin Perry, president of the Black Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City.

At issue are goals agreed to by Edgemoor and approved by the city that 15 percent of the construction work on the terminal project go to subcontractors owned by women and 20 percent go to minority-owned firms. The minority business enterprise and women business enterprise goals, commonly called M/WBE goals, are standard on Kansas City construction projects, but the goals on the terminal are higher than usual.

The statement claims Edgemoor is wildly deficient on meeting those goals as construction progresses on the terminal, slated to open in 2023. But Edgemoor disputes the chamber’s math, and the city’s Human Relations Department, which tracks the figures, is more closely aligned with Edgemoor’s calculations.

“While still early in the four-year, $1.5 Billion project, we are tracking to meet the participation goals we set, and we are meeting with members of the City Council and HRD regularly to discuss the progress of our MBE and WBE goals,” Edgemoor’s managing director, Geoff Stricker, said in a statement.

The chamber wants the City Council to appoint a special committee to review Edgemoor’s performance and require the company to submit a plan of action. The group also requested that the city renegotiate the M/WBE goals as well as goals regarding how many individual minority and female workers are on the project.

Finally, the group wants the special committee to review and monitor Edgemoor’s progress more closely and allocate additional resources to a city department responsible for doing so.

Under the previous council and mayor, Kansas City had an Airport Committee comprised of then-Mayor Sly James and several council members.

Mayor Quinton Lucas, who took office in August, made it a priority to reduce the number of committees at City Hall. It’s unclear whether he might support a special committee overseeing KCI in addition to the Transportation, Infrastructure and Operations Committee chaired by Councilwoman Teresa Loar.

“We made a promise to our community that we were going to utilize our local, diverse workforce to deliver a new airport terminal,” Lucas said in a statement. “I remain committed to that promise, and we will ensure Edgemoor hits its goals.”

Lucas said he had spoken to Loar about the issue but did not provide details.

There’s some disagreement over the figures Edgemoor is achieving.

The Black Chamber of Commerce used city figures to report that at the end of August, minority-owned firms had received $2.1 million for construction services and $4.7 million for professional services, like design and public outreach.

The group weighed those figures against the total budget of work eligible for M/WBE participation through 2023 and said Edgemoor was only achieving 0.32% participation for construction and 6.41% for professional services, compared to the 20% goal for each.

The city’s figures, however, take into account that Edgemoor only broke ground in March and has spent only 9% of the budget. Looking at money spent so far, the city says Edgemoor is hitting that target for construction services and falling short at 16.9 percent for professional services.

The same goes for women-owned firms. They’ve received a combined $4.8 million, which the chamber reports is 0.3% of the construction budget and 3.9 percent for professional services. The city, however, reports Edgemoor is beating its goal with 19.5% participation for construction services and falling short on its professional services goal at 10.3%.

Stricker said Edgemoor expects to make up ground on the professional services figures over the next few months of design work.

Perry said the numbers indicate there’s something wrong on the project.He said the chamber decided to get involved after a dispute several weeks ago in the City Council’s Business Session regarding what the city believed Edgemoor was achieving and what Edgemoor reported itself.

The release said the group’s findings were merely the “highlights of a myriad of concerns.”

“That is not to say conditions won’t improve, but it should be a warning that all is not well at KCI, and deserving a closer examination by elected officials,” the release says.

In 2017, the chamber had also raised alarms early in the terminal negotiation process about the lack of formal M/WBE agreements. Those have since been executed.

Edgemoor, however, said it had been committed since it was selected as the terminal developer in 2017 to “developing KCMO certified minority- and women-owned businesses and creating the workforce of the future.”

“For the largest single project in Kansas City’s history, Edgemoor has made unprecedented commitments on M/WBE participation, workforce participation and critical capacity-building programs,” Stricker said.

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Allison Kite reports on City Hall and local politics for The Star. She joined the paper in February 2018 and covered Midterm election races on both sides of the state line. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism with minors in economics and public policy from the University of Kansas.