Donovan Richards Jr., a lifelong resident of Southeast Queens, was elected as Borough President in November of 2020. He attended Jamaica High School and Redemption Christian Academy before studying communications, radio, and TV at Nyack College. He later received a degree in Aviation Management from Vaughn College. He has been a steadfast advocate for criminal justice reform, most recently acting as Chair of the Committee on Public Safety. In that position he has held numerous hearings on NYPD protocols surrounding protests, cannabis, and the Special Victims Division.
1 What steps can JFK and LGA airports take in order to remain a good neighbor to the surrounding communities?
Queens is proud to be the home of two major airports that serve as gateway to the New York metropolitan region, and by extension to our great country as a whole. One reason for our pride is that the airport community has generally been a good neighbor, especially in terms of its hiring practices. It has been proactive in hiring our borough’s residents for positions at the airports and at businesses that serve the aviation industry. This hiring has become especially important given the current economic climate, which has been deeply hurt by the pandemic.
But part of being a good neighbor means continuing to work hard to address the concerns of residents. We hear a lot from the communities surrounding the airports about the negative quality-of-life impacts that unfortunately come along with having major redevelopment projects in your backyard. We also often hear about the excessive plane noise that some communities experience disproportionately. Being a good neighbor means working to find ways to bolster the benefits and limit the drawbacks that the airports present to Queens residents.
2 As an economic engine, how critical are the airports to the overall success of Queens businesses and local workforce?
Our two airports are critical economic engines that generate a combined $72.4 billion in annual sales and $24.6 billion in annual wages for the economy, according to 2019 figures from the Port Authority. Those figures show the two airports combined to directly employ about 56,000 people and supported about 400,000 total full-time jobs.
Our airports serve as a gateway for tourists and other people visiting our borough, city and country. Queens has been actively seeking to attract tourists to our incredibly diverse array of attractions. The pandemic has unfortunately curtailed tourism significantly. But the tourism sector will bounce back, and Queens must be in position to capitalize on what should be a huge pent-up demand for travel, especially leisure travel, among people all over the world once this pandemic subsides. That’s why I have been hugely supportive of the redevelopment projects now being undertaken at JFK and LGA. These projects will make our airports truly first-class, which we will need them to be to attract visitors here.
3 How is your office involved in supporting small business in connecting them to opportunities at the airports?
Our office has worked closely with the Council for Airport Opportunity in connecting Queens residents with job opportunities in the aviation industry and in related businesses. We have partnered with the CAO on many job fairs that have connected our residents with aviation-related companies that have been hiring even during the pandemic, when many other jobs have become scare. Our next job fair will be held virtually on February 18.
We have also been an active partner on the LGA and JFK redevelopment projects in helping both projects connect with local businesses and in matching people who live near the airports with airport jobs, second chance employment, and concession opportunities.
One example of this work is the concession agreement with J&P Runway Café, a local minority-and woman-owned business brought in to operate an on-airport employee cafeteria inside Building 14 at JFK. J&P Runway Café is a new venture by successful local Queens restaurateurs Annette Runcie, owner of Pa-Nash Restaurant, and Michael Duncan, owner of Jamaica Breeze Restaurant. They are committed to hiring local residents to work at the cafeteria, and to bringing the delicious flavor of Queens cuisine to JFK.
Rep. Gregory Meeks and I also serve as co-chairs of the JFK Redevelopment Community Advisory Council, which includes local elected officials, community board members, clergy, civic and business leaders. To improve outreach to the local community, the Council spearheaded the opening of the Community Information Center in Jamaica, Queens. Although its physical office has been temporarily closed due to the pandemic, the Center is still operating virtually to connect the community with opportunities at JFK.
4 In a region that is economically reliant on the airports, do you think more local aviation & airport career training should made available?
It is important for our educational system to prepare our youth for the jobs that will be available in the 21st century economy. Those jobs include aviation and airport jobs, so we should be making more aviation and airport career training available to our young people. One way is through the Port Authority’s initiative to develop STEM enrichment programs for young people focused on aviation and aeronautics. This is something we advocated for. We have also supported the Port Authority’s partnership with Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology to offer scholarship opportunities and internships to Vaughn College students. I happen to be a proud graduate of Vaughn College, with a degree in Aviation Management, so I’m very pleased that these opportunities have been made available to Vaughn students.
The pandemic has taught us how fragile our economy can be, especially for workers who are not highly trained or skilled. So we need make sure our young people have the skills that will keep them employed even during a severe economic downturn, like the one we are experiencing now.
5 What is your office doing to support local businesses that are struggling to stay open, and what can the airport do to help support them?
One way we are supporting local businesses is by partnering with the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) to distribute grants of up to $20,000 each to eligible small businesses in Queens that have been hurt by the pandemic. These grants have been made possible by a $17.5 million donation from the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Foundation. Steven of course is the new owner of the Mets, and we are very grateful for the Cohens’ generosity.
A small business owner interested in one of these grants can file an application by working with one of the community partners that are helping businesses prepare their applications. For more information you can call our office at (718) 286-3000 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are also seeking to secure funding for additional grants for small businesses, and we are fighting for commercial rent control and will be continuing to hold job fairs that connect Queens residents seeking jobs with organizations that are hiring right now.
Finally, later this month we will be hosting a “small business town hall” where representatives from City agencies will answer questions from small business owners. More information about that town hall will be available soon.
The airports should continue to contract with and do business with local businesses, many of which have been struggling over the past year. Additional recommendations that have come out of our partnership with the JFK Redevelopment have also called for the airports to conduct dedicated outreach to local businesses and potential concessionaires, like J&P Runway Café, to prepare them to take advantage of the opportunities available at the airports.