17:07 PM

Minority transportation experts come together in Tampa to discuss the future of transit innovation

At the national Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO), airport executives from Tampa, Washington, DC, Baltimore, St. Petersburg and Fort Lauderdale, discussed everything from the impact of Uber to a future world with passenger drones and

Innovations in medical transport. Sustainable infrastructure. Connected vehicle technology. Colorado's first autonomous and accessible shuttle.

These were just a few of the topics covered in the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO) National Meeting & Training Conference, held this past week on July 12-16, in Tampa. COMTO is a leading national advocate for employment diversity, inclusion and contracting opportunities in the multi-modal transportation industry, aiming to maximize participation for minorities, veterans, people with disabilities and certified Disability Business Enterprises through leadership training, professional development, scholarship and internship funding, political advocacy and networking opportunities.

The Tampa event event drew minority and woman business owners involved in all aspects of transportation, and the attendees networked, learned about hot topics in the industry and heard from a number of Tampa International Airport officials about its recently completed Master Plan projects as well as what's ahead in Phases 2 and 3.   

In her welcome remarks at the conference Monday morning, US Rep. Kathy Castor praised TPA for its commitment to small and minority- and women-owned businesses. TPA spent more than $176.8 million with that sector during Master Plan Phase 1.

Airport CEO Joe Lopano elaborated on that success during a panel discussion following the Congressman’s remarks.

“We’ve invested a lot of our Human Resources and time to explain to the community what opportunities are there and how to access them,” he said. “You have to have a department that does nothing but work on this.”

Sharing the stage with the CEOs of the Pinellas and Hillsborough transit agencies, Lopano said he hoped to see continued expansion of bus service at TPA, which has already grown from just one to six routes a day.

“We’re getting a lot better, but we need early morning and late night service,” he said. “Airport workers need to be there at 4 or 5 in the morning and stay till after midnight.”

In the afternoon, Lopano and airport executives from Washington, DC, Baltimore, St. Petersburg and Fort Lauderdale, discussed everything from the impact of Uber on the airport business to cybersecurity and biometrics and a future world with passenger drones and supersonic travel.

Lopano said environmental issues are top-of-mind for him.

“I have three grandchildren, so I’m very concerned about what we leave those little ones,” he said.

He also shared his story about rising from cab driver to PanAm mailroom clerk to airline executive to airport CEO. He said he loves where he landed.

“Just look around an airport, where people are coming and going all day,” he said. “We have more hugs and kisses per square foot than anyplace on earth.”

Pictured above: TPA CEO Joe Lopano joins other airport leaders on an afternoon panel regarding the future of aviation and transportation. Middle right: TPA Director of Planning and Development Rich Coudurier gives a tour of the new Rental Car Center, SkyConnect train and other finished Master Plan Phase 1 projects to COMTO attendees. Bottom left: Tampa International Airport's Business Diversity team - Cheryl Hawkins, Bonnie Yauilla and Stephanie Pierce -- helped represent TPA along with Lopano at the COMTO conference.