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Building the Airport of the Future at JFK Terminal One

May 14, 2024

The “topping-out” ceremony is a time-honored tradition among builders. As the last beam of a structure is put in place, the construction workers take a moment to pause and reflect on what they’ve accomplished.

At the New Terminal One at JFK Airport in early March, the topping out ceremony was also an opportunity for workers, dignitaries, and investors – including Ullico — to celebrate an important milestone to a project that almost didn’t happen.

Today, New Terminal One is the largest public-private partnership in the country. The project is proof-positive that transformative collaboration between government, labor, and private capital is possible. A success by any measure — including job creation, economic growth, community involvement, and workforce development — New Terminal One faltered at first, when the effects of the COVID pandemic delayed the project for nearly two years.

That everything came together and culminated in a celebration in March, is a testament to those who understood the scope and ambition of the vision, who recognized the real and lasting impact it will have on workers and their families.

Gerrard Bushell, commemorating his final public appearance as CEO of New Terminal One, referenced the group’s cohesion during remarks at the topping-out ceremony. “Thank you to the great team at New Terminal One. Many of you started on this journey with me to build a new world-class international terminal for New York. Thank you for never losing faith,” he said. “Many more of you have joined us in the past few years. Thank you for putting your faith in us and helping us build, not just a great team but a great international terminal.”

Bushell listed many of the ways JFK Terminal One had made history, including its commitment to community engagement, workforce participation, and the participation of minority and women owned business enterprises (MWBEs).

An Essential Partner, Ullico’s Investment Turns Workers into Owners

When it came to turning the JFK project from possibility to reality, Ullico played a pivotal role. Through its infrastructure investment fund, the company provided crucial financing when the project’s fate was uncertain.

During his remarks at the topping-out ceremony, President of the New York State Building and Construction Trades Council Gary LaBarbera recalled that critical time period:

“I want to tell a quick story about what your pension dollars did. As you heard, this project had many starts and stops. Many things that came up. It almost didn’t happen, and you know why? We were short on funds,” said LaBarbera. “And it was Ed Smith of Ullico, God rest his soul, after a conversation with us all that said, ‘Ullico will put up $30 million at risk to make this project happen. And they did that. At risk. And from the hard work of everybody here, we got this project done, but without Ullico, none of us would be here today. So let’s thank Ullico, let’s thanks the union pension funds for making this a reality.”

Because Ullico’s mission is to protect workers and advance the labor movement, it made sense to invest union pension dollars into a project that would create union jobs.

Sonia Axter, Managing Director & Head of Asset Management, Infrastructure at Ullico, explained to attendees at the topping-out ceremony how the company seeks to create a virtuous cycle.

“Our capital comes from workers across the country, most of them construction workers,” Axter said. “You all work an hour. You take home money for that. You pay for your family, but you also contribute to your pension fund. Those pension funds invest with people like us. We aim to put that money back into U.S. infrastructure. We want to create good jobs.”

By creating good union jobs, the money those workers make generates more contributions to pension funds, which can be used to invest in projects that create more union jobs. The goal is twofold – to provide prudent financial returns for investors while spurring sustainable economic development in local communities.

“We want to lift you up. You’re not only the people building this terminal, and in the future operating this terminal, but you also own this terminal.” Axter said. “It’s how infrastructure should be built…We want to take the P3 model we have here and use it all over New York and all over the country.”