How the KCI airport project is landmark in representing women- and minority-owned businesses

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From the Ground Up Photography and Clark | Weitz | Clarkson. Photo taken in 2019.

The people of the KCI Airport project aren’t just building a representative space in Kansas City—they’re implementing goals to make sure the project represents what Kansas City could be. Geoff Stricker, the senior managing director for Edgemoor Infrastructure & Real Estate, and Julie Wellner of Wellner Architects have collaborated with upwards of 200 firms on the city’s largest single infrastructure project to date, on track to open in March of 2023. With sustainability goals to meet and 100 acres of space to construct, Stricker and the Edgemoor team aimed to achieve 20% minority support as well as 15% women support on both professional and construction services in hopes of creating a city-wide example that “drives women and minorities into big projects and big positions.”

What would you consider the most important part of this project?

Stricker: We asked the community, stakeholders, city council and the mayor what was critical to success in the project, and really quickly we heard that having an impact on small minority- and women-owned businesses had to be first and foremost in everything we do. Now we have a laser focus on significant commitments to minority- and women-owned participation, and put forward a series of programs to help meet those objectives and make this project transformational for Kansas City.

What kind of programs have you implemented?

Stricker: In order to sustain our inclusive goals, we needed to put certain programs into place. So, we’ve implemented programs such as our Pay Without Delay program, the Strategic Partnership Program, and the Supplier Support program, which gives small-business construction access to the same supplies at the same cost that our bigger companies get. We’ve also put together what can be considered as a package that allows for our minority and women employees to have access to the things they need to thrive in this setting. This can be anything from free transportation to the job site, extended daycare hours or healthcare.

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Courtesy of Wellner Architects

What is one aspect that you find most unique about this project?

Wellner: Kansas City has an ordinance that all of their new buildings need to meet what’s called LEED Gold, which comes from an accredited organization for sustainable projects. They have four levels, and Gold is the second-highest. It’s very difficult to meet because it takes investment, as well as conscious consideration from the very beginning of the design process. With the addition of cost-effective and high-efficiency materials that are sustainably sourced and measured for good health, we’ll be meeting that LEED Gold mark.

What is one challenge you’ve faced?

Stricker: In the beginning, a big challenge was the opinion of Kansas Citians. They view KCI as their airport, and we really fought to embrace the community early on. The engagement we had from a design perspective was huge. We showed design plans, went to neighborhood associations and presented in front of city council more times than I can count to ensure that the community felt involved and can know their visions are being incorporated.

Have you reached your goals?

Stricker: Recently we received an award from the Profiles in Diversity Journal. We were considered one of the top 10 most innovative companies in 2020 for the airport project. As of a month ago, we’re up to 117 minority and women-owned businesses, 58 of which are women-specific, and our goal was 15% women support—but we’ve succeeded that with a percentage of 19.5. And, women included in construction on the project is at 8%, which is three times the national average. 

Wellner: I think from a personal point of view, as a woman, this has been significant in the world of architecture and construction. This project will go down in the history books as having met incredible inclusive goals.

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