In 1997, Doreen Frasca started Frasca & Associates LLC, a successful financial consulting firm that provides a variety of services to airports and airlines all across the nation.
Now, after 20 years in business, the firm is thriving and planning to expand its offices, staff, and client base in transportation and other sectors throughout the United States.
In the past two decades, Frasca & Associates has moved to the forefront of helping airports find the lowest cost for issuing debt, adopting best practices in the management and operation of their facilities, and developing strategies to improve financial performance, enhancing customer service and find new funding sources.
Doreen Frasca is president and a principal of the firm while Ken Cushine is a principal.
Frasca & Associates is certified as a women and minority-owned firm and has been ranked in the top tier of MWBE financial advisors for the past five years. In 2016, the company advised on 21 deals with a par value of over $5 billion, according to data from Thomson Reuters.
The company was the top-ranked FA for airport deals last year, coming in at number one with 18 deals for $4.4 billion, a market share of 35.4%. Over the past 20 years, the firm has participated in over 130 bond deals for more than $50 billion of debt.
Since its founding, the firm has also advised on 17 public private partnership deals worth more than $13 billion including last year’s big LaGuardia Airport deal and has been involved in every FAA-pilot program P3 including Stewart Airport in New York and San Juan in Puerto Rico.
In the past
Before she founded her company, Doreen Frasca spent the first 20 years of her professional career at two big-name firms on Wall Street.
“I feel like the oldest surviving female on Wall Street because I got into the business in 1977, so I’ll be celebrating 40 years,” she said. “I started at Dillon Read on the municipal bond trading desk where I was ‘the girl who fetched coffee and typed reports’ and worked myself into a position where ultimately I was trading and doing a little bit of sales. So I learned municipals from the trading, underwriting, and sales side which was a very, very thorough grounding.”
Frasca said that she was intrigued by what the investment bankers were doing at Dillion Read and wanted to get into the business. She had earned her B.A. in history from Wheaton College and done graduate studies in history at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. So to bolster her business background, she went to Columbia University and got an M.B.A. in finance.
After graduation, Frasca looked at corporate finance, but decided on municipal bonds and went to work in the public finance division at Merrill Lynch, ultimately heading the firm’s airports and transportation group.
“My heart was in municipals," she said. "I didn’t want to feel like I was working to make corporations rich, I wanted to work for the public sector,” she said. “And I also thought that municipals had been terribly underrated by everybody – we were the red-headed stepchild – but actually our business is extremely complex: it’s a three dimensional chess game. And where you have the intersection of politics and money, things get very interesting.
“So to me it was a real brain-teaser all the time. I loved it. And I liked the people in it. I liked the clients. So it was a wonderful fit and I was at Merrill for 15 years. I was one of four people considered for the top job as head of municipal finance, didn’t get it and I basically took my marbles and left.”
She said that subsequently interviewed for the same job at Morgan Stanley, but “at that point I had just gotten married and acquired four children in that marriage and felt that everything on the home front worked before I took that type of responsibility on.”
She said that was very fortuitous.
“It was a good thing I didn’t [go for that job], because I formed Frasca & Associates. I met Ken when we were both working on a [commercialization of Terminal 4 at JFK International Airport] deal. To me, Ken was the smartest guy I had ever met and he mentioned that he was thinking of leaving the Port Authority and he said when this deal is over let’s talk -- and we got together and formed this wonderful partnership and it’s been 20 years now.”
Ken Cushine worked in airport finance for over 27 years before becoming a founding member of Frasca & Associates in 1997.
He held a series of positions at Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, culminating as general manager of business and financial services for the aviation department.
Cushine received a B.S. in electrical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and an M.B.A. in Finance from Columbia.
In the present
Today, Doreen Frasca aids clients in evaluating the feasibility of their project financings, structuring financing plans, and accessing the taxable and tax-exempt markets.
She has helped financed over $12 billion of projects for airports and used innovative financial products to do so. She has also advised on the privatization of Stewart International Airport and the commercialization of Terminal 4 at JFK International.
Cushine, who brings the strength of quantitative analysis to the firm, specializes in the financial structuring of airport projects including terminal, infrastructure and real estate development, the assessment of airport best practices and performance measurement, and the negotiation and implementation of airline and other airport user lease agreements.
In the future
The firm is now looking to expand its New York City headquarters as well open new offices around the U.S. Headquartered in Manhattan, the company has offices in Washington, D.C., Houston, Atlanta, and Albany, N.Y.
Frasca also said she was considering moving the firm into new business areas, since the company’s clients have been asking for additional services, so that the company will evolve as its clients’ needs evolve.
“Our clients have thought about [this expansion] for us,” she said. “When we deal with cities that have the airport as an enterprise fund and have other enterprise funds, they sometimes say to us, ‘Gee, can’t you help us out with that water and sewer system … we’re not thrilled with our current advisor.’ And we’ve said yes ... but we’re going to kick that up a notch and create a generalist specialty group here that will focus on water and sewer general obligations and city finances.”
Cushine said New York was not the only focus of the firm’s growth potential.
“I think we are also looking with respect not necessarily to expanding just our office here [in New York] but also to probably expand in some offices across the country,” Cushine said, adding that they were looking at an office on the West Coast, a Chicago office in the Midwest and a Florida office in the Southeast.
But they plan to stay in public finance.
“There’s so much to do,” Frasca said, “and with President Trump and his desire to spend meaningful amounts on infrastructure, I think there will be an uptick in interest in P3s, and we feel we’re ahead of the curve on that. We have only advised governmental clients. There are plenty of people who advise the private sector entities – and quite frankly there’s a lot more money in doing that – but we want to make sure that municipalities have the type of advice that they need to navigate these very complicated transactions. So we’ve decided to stay on the governmental side.”
The loyalty cuts both ways as some of the firm’s clients have been with Frasca & Associates for 20 years.
“Our first client was LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) and were still advising them and been working on a P3 transaction for them right now,” Frasca said, who is also working on a privatization deal for its newest client – the Westchester County, N.Y., Airport.
The firm is also advising the New York Transportation Development Corp. on the LaGuardia Airport Delta Airlines deal which is slated to come to market later this spring or summer.
“I really and truly believe that every airport is different,” she said. “And when you look at it in relation to a toll road you know the complexities lie with the airport, which is why we believe it’s a full time job. And I think it’s why we’ve been so successful because we have 13 people that are focusing on airports whereas the larger firms maybe have two or three specialists and the rest are generalists and I think it shows in the quality of our product.”
Frasca, who was one of the Northeast Women in Public Finance’s “Trailblazing Women in Public Finance,” has been active in New York City affairs. She was commissioner at the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority from 2008 to 2011, where she chaired the Transit Committee.
But she has a special and experienced perspective on the airport industry.
“This is an industry that is extremely welcoming to women,” Frasca said. “When I think of the number of women who are running major airports, like Ginger Evans in Chicago, Chellie Cameron in Philadelphia, Kim Day in Denver, Debra Ale Flint in Los Angeles, Thella Bowens in San Diego, Kim Becker in San Jose, and Candace McGraw in Cincinnati. These are very important assets and guess what – women are managing them and they are doing a spectacular job.”