Amber Meshack: Directing Innovation that Changes Lives

Amber Meshack: Directing Innovation that Changes Lives

PHOTO COURTESY OF LOS ANGELES WORLD AIRPORTS

Today's most prominent organizations relentlessly focus on innovation as one of their top strategic priorities. To remain relevant and top of mind in an increasingly demanding society, companies typically approach innovation by evolving their technology, engineering, processes, or testing the biggest, newest, and brightest ideas. Yet there's usually one critical centerpiece that is either missed altogether or simply an afterthought — the people.

Innovation is about finding the right people around you; it's not about the shiniest ideas. It's about fostering the right conditions and creating a safe environment for people who are so passionate about what they do; they don't see obstacles; they see possibilities and opportunities. Passionate people who genuinely believe they can make a difference in the lives of others are what drive tremendous change and leave a lasting impact.

One such passionate person is Amber Meshack, Director of the Business, Jobs, & Social Responsibility (BJSR) Division at the Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA). According to Meshack, "If you build buildings and you transform the skyline, the airport, but you don't transform people's lives and provide opportunities to small businesses within the community, then you haven't really lived up to the potential of the program." 

LAWA established BJSR in 2018 to advance social responsibility and maximize access to business and career opportunities at LAWA. Through BJSR, LAWA seeks to create a perfect environment to foster innovation. 

As Director of the BJSR Division, Ms. Meshack is responsible for the workforce and business opportunity programs, including ensuring delivery of inclusivity commitments for the $14B LAWA capital program, overseeing LAWA'S First Source Hiring Program, managing the small contractor development and bonding assistance program, and developing strategic partnerships for business and workforce development.

"Small and local businesses are the lifeblood of our LAWA program; it is what most people see when coming to the airport right now.”

Before taking on the role of BJSR Director, Ms. Meshack worked on the LAX Landside Access Modernization Program (LAMP). As BJSR Director, she managed executive operations and procurements for projects like the City's largest ever public-private-partnership project and the $4.9B Automated People Mover, the largest contract ever entered into by the City of Los Angeles. As part of that effort, Ms. Meshack was responsible for developing the local hire, workforce, and small, local, and disadvantaged business contracting requirements.

Prior to coming to LAX, Ms. Meshack helped establish the City of Los Angeles Neighborhood Council system. She was an organizer with the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, "the living wage coalition," helping to establish local livable wages.

"Small and local businesses are the lifeblood of our LAWA program; it is what most people see when coming to the airport right now," says Meshack. The running joke between Amber and her team is that they are more like a construction site that just happens to have planes coming in and out.

What is undoubtedly the most extensive modernization program of an airport that LAX has ever done, the crown jewel of their groundbreaking innovations is their $5.5 billion landside access modernization program (LAMP), set to be completed by 2023. An automated train will finally connect LAX to the regional metros system. A long-overdue solution to a recurring pain point caused by LA traffic will forever change and drive a positive sentiment for the daily LAX traveler's experience.

When diving in deeper with Meshack to unpack other exciting, innovative projects on the horizon, she shared details surrounding the consolidated rental car center at LAX that customers will have direct access to in one central location. Conveniently, the train station will be right there on top of the rental car center, where you can drop off your car, get on the train and go straight to your terminal.

Terminals are also being modernized simultaneously, as the city council has recently approved to proceed with the next stages of planning and development for the airfield and terminal modernization project. Modernization will be another estimated $5-$6 billion program, focused on expansion by adding a new concourse with a new terminal and a massive roadway of improvements.

The innovation strategy at LAWA is driven by listening to their guests, diverse small businesses, suppliers, internal employees, and data insights that allow them to iterate constantly, test, and evolve. Despite all of those extraordinary projects, there are still two programs Meshack is the proudest of, LAX Academy and Hire LAX.

"We've had this intensive focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion, and this is by design from the current and previous CEO. We knew that billion-dollar programs of this magnitude typically only come along once in a lifetime, and proudly we are 50 to 60% of the way through the program and have already exceeded our business utilization goals for small and local businesses. We're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars going directly to these small and local businesses," says Meshack.

These impressive numbers are living proof that one of the newest programs of LAWA, LAX Academy, focused on helping small contractors become successful, is already precisely doing that. LAWA continues to show that there's no innovation without the people. Hire LAX ensures LAWA construction projects are committed to building with a minimum of 30% local workers.

Ms. Meshack passionately describes the focus of the Hire LAX apprenticeship readiness program to be solely on the local community and on creating pathways for people who may have been locked out or had barriers to careers, which make up about 40% of people.

"This (Hire LAX) is also inclusive of program graduates who had previous justice system involvement, and this program is helping to break down those barriers and provide access into good-paying union construction jobs." Meshack shared. 

The Hire LAX apprenticeship readiness program has been recognized as a national model for reasons such as the primary training given to the apprentices through their partnership with Southwest College and building construction trade unions. LAWA can also provide wraparound supportive services, with grant aid provided by the County of Los Angeles.  The assistance helps overcome economic barriers such as local workers' ability to pay for boots, tools, transportation, anger management classes, or anything to succeed in the workforce. Its model partners such as Leaders Up make it possible for LAWA to bring these opportunities to the community.

Meshack and the rest of the BJSR division have given a deeper and more empowering meaning to what innovation can look like beyond the latest technology advancements. Instead, they are showing the world what innovation can unlock when you put the community that makes up the people, the small and local businesses, and place them at the heart of everything you do to shape and build the future of tomorrow. It must be diverse, equitable, inclusive, or there's nothing innovative about it at all. 

To learn more about LAWA and the BJSR division of programs, please visit www.lawa.org.

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