SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA), the trade association representing commercial service airports in the United States and Canada, today announced Ron Gomes, Vice President of Strategic Alliances for HMSHost, as the recipient of the 2023 ACI-NA Leon C. Watkins Guardian Award for Excellence in Business Diversity.
“Ron Gomes has an exemplary record of encouraging and supporting business diversity in our industry, and his passion for helping underrepresented businesses succeed is clear in the outcomes his leadership has produced for those businesses and the people they support,” said ACI-NA President and CEO Kevin M. Burke. “Through his personal mentorship of ACDBEs, industry professionals, and small businesses, Ron has proven that this is not just a job — it’s a passion — and his work has made a meaningful difference in many lives.”
Since 2006, Gomes has led the creation and growth of HMSHost’s Strategic Alliances, a first-of-its-kind department for the company and the concessions industry more broadly. The department focuses on cultivating strong relationships with minority-owned and women-owned business enterprises with a special interest in those certified as Airport Concessions Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (ACDBEs). Since its inception, Gomes and his team have grown the program to 120 ACDBE partners generating nearly $500 million in annual revenue, paving the way for minority business owners to break industry barriers.
“Leon Watkins left behind a legacy of devotion, courage, and inclusion, and he personally empowered me to spend my career uplifting and supporting minority entrepreneurs,” said Gomes. “I am humbled to be a recipient of his namesake award in the spirit of everything the memory of Leon Watkins represents.”
Under Gomes’ leadership, HMSHost’s Strategic Alliances has secured critical partnerships to support minority- and women-owned businesses — including the first-ever public partnership with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency, as well as partnership with the Phoenix Community Development & Investment Corporation and Mutual of Omaha Bank that led to the creation of a unique financing program offering small businesses access to capital by leveraging HMSHost’s financial strength. He also educated and helped usher in additional financing resources, such as Citizens Trust Bank and Lendistry, to the airport concessions industry.
Gomes has also led the charge to increase the industry’s focus on ACDBE Business Capacity and Supplier Diversity, developing an informal mentor program to help guide promising suppliers and entrepreneurs. Additionally, he helped Strategic Alliances create a web portal for interested diverse businesses to connect with HMSHost, an effort that generated 200 new leads in less than a year. In 2020, Gomes worked with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to develop equitable guidelines and ensure maximum dispersion of CRRSA funding and ARPA rent relief. Gomes also steered ACDBEs to federal funding sources, including PPP loans, Restaurant Revitalization Fund grants, and low-interest SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDLs).
As a leader in business diversity, Gomes was recently recognized by Airport Experience News as the prestigious AX Icon, for a lifetime of dedication to the industry.
About the Leon C. Watkins Guardian Award
Established in 2020, the Leon C. Watkins Guardian Award for Excellence in Business Diversity recognizes a business diversity leader who has promoted the growth and evolution of minority- and women-owned businesses and suppliers, while also fostering the advancement of civil rights and equal opportunities for all within the airport business environment.
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