A newcomer to Mobile is quite excited about the upcoming Gulf Coast Challenge taking place Saturday, Sept. 22, at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. The matchup this year between Southern University and Alabama A&M features two Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs) with long and illustrious histories.

The Gulf Coast Challenge game and the events surrounding it are sure to be exciting and a great time for the community at large, but for recent arrival Jason Wilson, what’s going to make it even more special is that he gets to cheer on and enjoy fellowship with those from his beloved alma mater, Southern University. Some challenges are well worth embracing and feeling enthusiastic about.

That’s also how Wilson feels about the position that brought him to Mobile. Wilson is the Mobile Airport Authority’s commercial business director, a challenge he is very excited about. In fact, he said the challenge of the position was part of its lure.

His last position as the division director for real estate management and development for five airports in Miami presented its own challenges. His responsibilities included overseeing the cargo program at the nation’s number one airport for international freight. But through tenant expansion at the various airports and the introduction of greater process efficiencies, his division produced a $30 million increase in revenues during his three-and-a-half-year tenure.

The appeal of working in Mobile is the opportunity — the challenge — of being able to work at what Wilson calls “a diamond in the rough.”

“Many Mobilians don’t realize that very few airports in the United States have the critical infrastructure of rail access, major port and waterways, along with an interstate nexus all located in close proximity to it” he said.

From a logistical standpoint, the Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley stands out in a unique way. You add in the fact that you can land any aircraft in the world at Brookley and, to Wilson, you have a prize economic jewel of immense potential. The opportunity to sell that potential is something he relishes.

But just as important, and what really stood out to me when I met him for the first time, is his belief in community and the impact he feels an airport should have on the community. He likewise displayed a passion to help those in the community, particularly those from disadvantaged parts of it.

The Baton Rouge native noted he grew up not far from his local airport. When he was a kid he would ride his bike down near the runway and watch the planes take off and land. The love of aviation began early. His hard-working educator father, who grew up picking cotton, also managed several successful businesses on the side, one a real estate business. His father put him to work around the age of 12 cleaning up and helping fix up houses, and real estate became a passion as well.

Wilson said he feels blessed to be able to combine those two passions into what has been a rewarding career. He wants to help impart that same inspiration, desire and drive that was developed in him as a young person to those who have been deprived of the rich exposure to opportunities and experiences he had growing up.

Mobile Airport Authority Executive Director Chris Curry, who Wilson says he has known for over a decade through their work in the aviation industry, has always prioritized this as well. He related how Curry, during his tenure leading the Tallahassee International Airport, would travel to Miami and other areas throughout Florida mentoring and working with disadvantaged youth. His connection to and concern for the community was strong.

Wilson notes Curry has brought that same spirit to Mobile. He’s brought an energy and vision to positively impact the lives of disadvantaged young people in this area and create inroads of opportunity and exposure for them to the field of aviation — a vision Wilson says he wholeheartedly shares.

By the time this column is published, the Mobile Airport Authority will have held what Wilson believes is a first for the organization: a small business outreach and career expo. This, he notes, is a tangible manifestation of the Mobile Airport Authority’s vision and direction. It was conceived as an event the authority can use to help facilitate economic opportunity and development to underutilized businesses in the community, particularly disadvantaged businesses. The goal is to eventually have two per year, one in Mobile and one on the Eastern Shore.

Its holistic approach, Wilson says, not only offers small and disadvantaged business owners insight on how to acquire contracts, but also connects them with the prime large businesses in the area with which the authority routinely contracts.

The free event also provides these local business owners with banking, insurance and bonding, small business development and other types of assistance and connection. In one location, the authority wants to offer small business owners all the tools they need to be successful.

As the outreach to small businesses is taking place, the event also has various tenants of the Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley present, offering job seekers the opportunity to gain employment. The aviation field and supporting/connected industries, says Wilson, “is ripe with career/job opportunities.” The career expo component of the event is a way to help the community see that and give locals a way to access those opportunities.

“A community’s airport,” states Wilson, “is generally one of the larger economic entities that drives growth and development.” There are challenges that exist, but he believes that through the strategic, purposeful and committed planning and action the Mobile Airport Authority has embarked upon, the jewel that is Brookley will begin to shine in spectacular fashion.