Sky Harbor Business

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A recent Department of Transportation study places Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International airport at the top of the list for best airport for new small business growth. In 2012, 14 new small businesses were added and more are slated for the coming year. We talk to two business owners about their successes and challenges of operating at the airport and why Sky Harbor is gaining a reputation as a great airport for “foodies.”

Ted Simons: The Department of Transportation recently named sky harbor as the number one airport in the country for small business growth. In the last two years, 14 businesses, mostly restaurants, have opened their doors at the airport. Producer Shana Fischer and photographer Scot Olson profile two of these local establishments.

Shana Fischer: It's the perfect recipe. Combine good food with good service and the people will come.

Gonzalo De La Melena: Service is a take on a European pub -- fuelled with Mexican food.

Shana Fischer: Gonzalo De La Melena opened Sir Veza's in terminal four two years ago. He said the keys to success at the airport are simple.

Gonzalo De La Melena: Speed of service is paramount. Portability, convenience also critical. People usually have a couple, few minutes before they have to get to their flight. So, what makes operating the airport different is that mindset of speed of service. We have driven our speed of service down to three minutes or less to accommodate the traveling passenger.

Shana Fischer: B gate area, Helen Yung and her business partner, operate sweet republic.

Helen Yung: Ice cream is all about traffic flow. We need lots of foot traffic and there is no more foot traffic than there is at the airport. And we have a lot of people been asking us to, you know, bring our concept to other locations.

Shana Fischer: Yung said the portability of her ice cream makes it appeal for travelers. Open since March 2014, Yung said she has already seen a tremendous difference in airport food offerings.

Helen Yung: People are more excited to come early to the airport and actually have a good time, have a good meal before getting on the plane.

Shana Fischer: Airport spokesperson Julie Rodriguez said sky harbor made a conscious effort to attract small businesses and it worked.

Julie Rodriguez: We have had tremendous feedback and social media is a good gauge. Lots of positive tweets and Facebook posts about how great our food is. People are pleasantly surprised when they get near their gate and find a favorite local restaurants, maybe a restaurant that may have an hour wait in another part of the city they can walk in and enjoy here.

Shana Fischer: Mike Dixon, one of 100,000 passengers that passed through sky harbor every day. He says that the airport is a great way to connect with local businesses and get an idea of the city.

Mike Dixon: What's interesting to me is to be able to see what local things are going on. If you can catch that at the airport, that's kind of fun. I'm not leaving the airport. I'm going to fly out in an hour. But if I get a flavor of what Phoenix is like, that's kind of cool.

Shana Fischer: Terminal four, rib joint, full service restaurants. De La Melena says when small businesses thrive at the airport; it is good news for the state's economy, too.

Gonzalo De La Melena: Small business ownership is really driving our economy for the state of Arizona. If you think about 97% of all jobs in the state of Arizona are small business owned. There is 400,000 small businesses of which 100,000 are minority-owned, growing at a rate four times faster. The future growth of Arizona is really dependent on our ability to get more women and minority-owned business access to capital contracts and owning their own business. It is really the future.

Ted Simons: The airport will soon be revamping its retail offerings in terminal 4, followed by a rehaul of food and retail businesses in terminal 3. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Video: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Gonzalo De La Melena: Owner of Sir Veza's; Helen Yung: Owner of Sweet Republic Ice Cream; Julie Rodriguez: Sky Harbor Spokesperson

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