By Maria Saporta
With the launch of Southwest Airlines in Atlanta on Sunday, the company’s executives announced a “LUV Grants for Good” program on Monday where Georgia nonprofits would be able to apply for grants.
Gary Kelly, CEO of Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, gave a “sneak peak” of the announcement at a breakfast meeting of the Latin American Chamber of Commerce at the Buckhead Club.
The formal announcement is scheduled for 1 p.m. Monday at a press conference with Gov. Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. That also explains why Kelly, who had been scheduled to speak at the Rotary Club of Atlanta Monday, canceled that visit several weeks ago.
“We have a real passion of being part of our communities, just as AirTran has done,” Kelly said referring to Southwest’s acquisition of AirTran that gave them strong access to Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. “It’s important that we are part of the community.”
The grants program will make available a total of $150,000 to nonprofits, but there will be a competition set up for organizations to win one of six $25,000 grants. The Georgia Center for Nonprofits worked with Southwest to establish the program.
About 100 nonprofits are expected to submit online essays applying for the LUV grants. Then between 15 and 18 of the essays will be selected, and those organizations will be given camcorders to put together a video.
The public will have an opportunity to vote to view the videos on how the various organizations would use the money to serve their communities, and the public will select the six winning nonprofits. For rules and guideless, click on southwest.com/luvgrants.
Debra Benton, Southwest’s director of community relations and charitable giving, said the airline has been following through on the relationships that had been established by AirTran. But that the LUV grants were an opportunity for the airline to establish new relationships.
“We thought this was a fun way to get the community involved,” Benton said. The program is being launched today, and Southwest expects to announce the six winners by late March.
The announcement is just one of a series of events that Southwest has held over the weekend and Monday to highlight its entrance to the Atlanta market. That included the celebration for Southwest’s inaugural flight to Atlanta on Sunday.
From a marketing perspective, Southwest also will continue AirTran’s relationship with the Georgia Aquarium. Dana Williams, a Southwest marketing executive, said it will be the same partnership that AirTran has had, but everything is being rebranded with the Southwest name.
At the Latin American Chamber breakfast, Atlantan Veronica Biggins introduced Kelly to the audience. Biggins, a partner with Diversified Search, had served on AirTran’s board. And last fall, she was asked to join Southwest’s board of directors.
“Gary is a great person,” Biggins said. “He’s a Texan through and through. He loves cars, the University of Texas, he loves Elvis Pressley and he loves the electric guitar.”
Kelly told the breakfast crowd that the integration between AirTran and Southwest was going well. He was happy the “LUV” airline had been able to launch Atlanta service in February — the love month.
“Atlanta has been on our wish list for a long time. Georgia has been on our wish list for a long time,” Kelly said. “And now we are here.”
Southwest will begin with 15 daily flights to five non-stop destinations, and by August, it will have up to 27 flights at 11 nonstop destinations from Atlanta. The full integration of Southwest and AirTran should be completed by 2015, Kelly said.
He also told the Latin chamber that international service was going to be a top priority for Southwest. AirTran already has seven to eight international destinations.
“We would love to keep those,” Kelly said. He added that Southwest also would like to serve Canada and other destinations in the Caribbean.
Towards the end of the breakfast, State Rep. Pedro Marin read a declaration from Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp proclaiming that Kelly be an honorary Georgia citizen.
Kelly seemed pleased by the welcome.
“It is absolutely wonderful,” Kelly said after the breakfast. “It’s gone so well, and we’ve had such a warm reception. We’re just floating on Cloud Nine.”
Asked how much time he would be spending in Atlanta, Kelly said: “I love Atlanta. I love Georgia, so I’m sure I will be a pretty frequent visitor. We try to be the hometown airline in every city we serve.”