Memphis Int'l Trains Local Contractors in Airfield Maintenance

Thomas G. Dolan
Published in: 


Project: Airfield Maintenance Training

Location: Memphis (TN) Int'l Airport

Duration: 2 days

Attendees: About 20 local contractors

Purpose: Educate local contractors about airfield repair & maintenance to help them compete for airport contracts

Topic Addressed: Maintenance products, equipment & echniques; banking & insurance issues; disadvantaged business enterprise contracts

Memphis International Airport (MEM) spends about $1 million a year maintaining its 5,000 acres of pavement, and contractors outside the region typically win the work. That struck Richard White, vice president of properties and business development, as wrong - especially during a down economy, when local businesses were hungry for opportunities to work.

"I felt we needed to do everything possible to keep jobs, skills and talents in Memphis," White explains. "I thought maybe if we provided local contractors with the training, we could make a contribution."

So in late August, the airport hosted a two-day program to teach local contractors how to repair and maintain joint seals in the airport's runways, taxiways and aprons. The airport has a six-year replacement cycle for joints to ensure that surfaces last 25 years.

The idea took about one year to develop. After director of maintenance, Bobby Kellum, verified that it would be feasible, manager of airfield maintenance, Gil Bobo, helped determine what resources a training event would require and who should be involved.

"I thought it was a good idea," recalls Bobo. "We have a lot of good contractors here, and if we train them and give them the nuts and bolts, we can keep the money local."

In particular, he recommended inviting sealant manufacturers to provide special training about how to apply their products.

And the idea grew from there. Equipment companies were also asked to provide training, and representatives from a local bank and insurance company were added to the agenda to address financing and bonding.

"We basically wanted to present all of the information needed so the contractors could be walked through the entire process," Bobo explains.

A total of 11 different companies ended up provided training, reports White. In addition, a contract compliance officer from city of Memphis spoke about the local procurement process and the federal program for disadvantaged business enterprises (DBEs), providing specific information about the contract process for small companies and women- and minority-owned businesses.

While collaborating on the training project, White informed the city that getting local DBEs involved in airport maintenance could boost Memphis tax revenue - a proposal the city is currently considering, he reports.

Core Curriculum

Prior to the program, Bobo prepared sample joints to contrast properly and improperly prepared silicone.

Cheryl Jones, product development manager of Crafco Products, presented a preparation of the joints and introduced products to patch cracked membranes. "Some contractors knew nothing about joint sealing," notes Jones. "If the preparation is not done properly, then material will not adhere and there will be failures. I thought the program was very educational and people got a lot out of it."

Ryan Sypherd, marketing specialist for D.S. Brown, trained contractors in the use of Delpatch, a product the airport has used for spall repair for about 15 years. "Our first session was in the classroom, so the contractors could see what the product was and how to mix it. Then, they did a hands-on test section," explains Sypherd, who also provided information about in-pavement lighting.

"I thought it was a great event," he notes. "I've never seen an airport do this. It gives contractors the chance to see what products the airport uses and how to use them properly."

Cliff Robinson, co-owner of Rebel Equipment & Supply, reports that the contractors seemed interested in the material that was presented. Because Rebel has a long-standing relationship with the airport, Robinson had already done business with many of the attendees, but he met potential new customers as well.

Beyond Products & Equipment

George Milliard, president/partner of Pete Mitchell & Associates, provided contractors with information about insurance coverage for airfield maintenance jobs, and cautioned them that surety bonding can be challenging. "I told them the three things an insurance carrier will look at are character, capacity and credit/collateral," says Milliard. "If they are diligent and consistent in maintaining these things, they will be considered a better risk."

He considers MEM's program the beginning of an ongoing outreach process. "I think it is definitely worthwhile," he relates. "It allows local contractors to expand their lines and services and be more successful in securing jobs."

Shawn Thomas, vice president of lending at Tri-State Bank of Memphis, advised attendees that his bank provides banking and potential lending information for contractors working within the airport's DBE program. Thomas also provided information about Tri-State's work with the Department of Transportation to become a member of its Short Term Lending Program. "This program would allow the bank to provide funding on transportation related projects - in this particular case, the airport," he explains.

Audience Participation

In total, about 20 local contractors attended the training and informational program. Janice Davis, office manager of Davis & Davis, learned about new financial programs and hopes the event will help her company secure a contract at MEM.

David White, owner of Dowco, also particularly enjoyed the banking presentations, but for a different reason. "A lot of smaller companies don't survive, for they don't have the financial backing if they're not paid in 30 to 60 days," White explains. "We learned how to be bankable."

Ready access to the presenters was another benefit. "The airport had already spoken with these people, so they were willing to help," he explains. "It's a big opportunity."

White also appreciated the product application training. "They did an excellent job showing how to use quality products," says White. "It's something you can take and incorporate into your other business."

In addition to local contractors, representatives from Cincinnati Airport and Little Rock National Airport also attended the program. With White fielding queries from still other airports, MEM may soon be known as a trendsetter in airfield maintenance training.


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