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Airport Projects Expand Opportunity for Disadvantaged Businesses

November 30, 2020

The Port of Seattle works to address economic inequity by expanding opportunities for socially and economically disadvantaged businesses. One way the Port grows these opportunities is through its Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) Program, which helps ensure that certified socially and economically disadvantaged businesses have equal opportunity to compete for federally-funded airport projects.

The Port’s DBE program was established to meet regulations developed by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) which distributes funding for airport, public transit, and highway construction projects each year. USDOT’s DBE Program helps create an equitable environment for minority- and women-owned businesses to compete for contracts on state and local transportation projects that are funded by the Department through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).

“It’s an opportunity to level the playing field,” said Tamaka Thornton, Port Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) Program Manager.

To quality for DBE certification, a business must be at least 51 percent owned and controlled by a socially and economically disadvantaged individual. The individual claiming economic disadvantaged status must be African American, Alaskan Native, Asian-Pacific Islander, Asian Sub-Continent, Hispanic, or Native American and have a personal net worth less than $1.32 million.

Construction workers constructing concrete at the airport
Copyright Salinas Construction

Salinas Construction

Salinas Construction, a Mukilteo-based DBE Certified business, is a third-generation heavy highway and airfield concrete construction contractor. The business went through DBE certification in 2017 and is currently subcontracting on three separate airfield paving projects at SEA.

“As a subcontractor, the DBE certification program allows the opportunity to be looked at by general contractors,” John Salinas, President of Salinas Construction said. “Sometimes it’s hard to get a general contractor to even want to accept a proposal from a subcontractor. But for a job that requires DBE participation, general contractors are mandated to thoroughly review DBE business proposals. This allows us the opportunity to have people reach out to us and hopefully will win us contracts.”

He said the certification doesn’t bring legitimacy to a DBE business, but it does give businesses the opportunity to show that they are right for the job.

“Once the general contractor looks through your proposal, they can see that you are thorough and a qualified business that can perform the work under a specific scope,” he said.

Salinas said DBE businesses are listed in a database and general contractors checking the database may reach out to him and alert him of job opportunities he wasn’t aware of. As much as he tries to stay on top of all prospective projects, as a small business owner, he isn’t always aware of every opportunity.

“This allows you to have another set of eyes out there, saving you from missing something.”

airfield paving
Copyright Salinas Construction

Supporting DBEs

The Port’s Diversity in Contracting Department — DBE Program works with the Airfield AV Project Management group to identify airport and airfield projects that qualify for federal funds. All federally-funded DBE projects should tie into the airport or airfield. The Port’s Diversity in Contracting department also helps the Port meet DBE requirements for each project with a goal of increasing the number of minority- and women-owned businesses competing for contracts on these projects. Since the DBE program began in 1983, DOT is required to ensure that at least 10 percent of the funds authorized for these federally-funded projects be paid out to DBEs.

Once the federally funded projects are identified, Thornton looks to see which local DBE certified businesses are available to work on these projects. Thornton conducts an analysis based on the availability of DBE firms and the identified project scopes of work to set the DBE goal. To increase DBE participation on bidding for contracts on these federal projects, the Port holds informational sessions and performs outreach to various minority organizations and entities with a DBE database, and connects with minority chambers of commerce. 

The 2020 federally funded airport projects at SEA include:

  • Airfield perimeter fence line upgrades
  • Airport restroom renovations
  • Airfield pavement replacement
  • Sound insulation installation on condos, homes, and businesses around the airport

Equitable economic development

“The DBE program provides an opportunity to disadvantaged businesses in the aviation field that may otherwise not receive an opportunity,” Thornton said. “It helps bridge the gap for new BIPOC-owned transportation and aviation related businesses and introduces girls and women of color to careers related to transportation and aviation.”

Thornton’s work helps build an equitable process of bidding for contracts on federal projects by:

  • Ensuring nondiscrimination in the award of DOT-assisted contracts
  • Verifying that a firm meets federal eligibility standards (49 CFR Part 26) prior to participation in the DBE Program
  • Identifying and removing barriers to participation for DBEs in federally-assisted contracts
  • Helping DBEs to increase their competitiveness in the marketplace

Salinas construction
Copyright Salinas Construction

Bridging opportunity

Thornton said providing a level playing field has the power to open doors. Some DBEs awarded Port contracts have been able to branch out and find work with other government entities and organizations as well.

“With our successful program, DBE firms are able to take the business mindset to other places, like the city of Seattle, King or Snohomish County, or Joint Base Lewis McChord. They are able to diversify their own business which is wonderful and an objective of this program,” Thornton said.

Thornton has worked with a couple who started their own asbestos and abatement company.  After receiving the DBE certification, they have been able to take that experience and information and continue to grow their business both in the public and private construction sector and give back to their community.

“They’ve been able to employ individuals who are women and minorities. They specifically try to hire individuals who members of their community. Disadvantaged businesses with Port contracts give back to community in more ways than you can imagine. The success stories help the program. DBE certification opens up a good stream of clients for businesses.”

Get DBE certified

Email questions regarding the Port's DBE Program to

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Top image copyright Salinas Construction

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