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Borough businesses seek partners at air trade fair

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The matchmaker of Kennedy Airport was at it again last week, this time organizing the business equivalent of a speed-dating event for Queens entrepreneurs to network with airport tenants.

Dolores Hofman, program manager of the Queens Air Services Development Office, has earned a reputation for pairing local businesses with companies in the air travel industry at Kennedy and LaGuardia airports and last Thursday’s Aviation Networking Conference was no exception.

The event at the Crowne Plaza Hotel at LaGuardia Airport featured a “reverse trade show,” an ASDO trademark, where aviation representatives and government agencies that are looking for companies to fill contracts set up a table and the vendors go from contact to contact, Hofman said.

“A company can make 30 to 35 sales calls in just a few hours,” she said. “With buyers at the tables, this event is equivalent to a company generating business at huge expense with much effort and many sales leads. The big difference with our format is that ASDO does the work at no cost to the business community.”

More than 50 corporations and agencies, including JetBlue, American Airlines, the Port Authority and the Federal Aviation Administration, came to the conference and at least 100 representatives from borough-based companies attended with business cards in hand, Hofman said. The turnout was among the best in the 12 years Hofman and ASDO have been organizing the event, she said.

“The aviation industry at Kennedy and LaGuardia airports contributes almost $30 billion in economic activity to the region annually,” Hofman said. “Our event is a vehicle for Queens businesses to market their goods, products and services — everything from paper clips to general contractors — to our aviation partners.”

Paper clips and office supplies are exactly what Michael Ukhueduan, director of business development for Ebony Office Products was hoping to sell. Ukhueduan has represented the Long Island City-based company at the conference since it began 12 years ago, he said.

“This is a wonderful function to meet prospective clients,” Ukhueduan said. “Every year you have different faces here. It’s constantly just grown.”

Ukhueduan said he has acquired three or four contracts directly from the conferences, and other business has come from contacts he made there over the years.

But success is not always measured by the number of contracts a company gets at the conference, said Jim Sparro, of Airpark Airport Parking Systems in Jamaica.

“If you come and just get one new customer or client, you never know what that will turn into,” Sparro said.

The aviation industry is still struggling under the weight of the poor economy, and Queens has lost more than 200,000 airport-related jobs since Sept. 11, 2001. But the well-attended networking conference may be a signal of better days ahead, Hofman said.

“I think the economy is starting to come back,” she said. “This is a great sign that we’ve turned a corner.”

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

Posted 7:08 pm, October 10, 2011
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