Magazine article University Business

Driving Economic Diversity: While Diversifying Their Own Supply Chains, Institutions Also Help Minority Businesses Grow beyond Campus Contracts

Magazine article University Business

Driving Economic Diversity: While Diversifying Their Own Supply Chains, Institutions Also Help Minority Businesses Grow beyond Campus Contracts

Article excerpt

A bit of institutional self-interest motivates campus leaders when they work to spend money with businesses owned by minorities, women, veterans and other underrepresented groups.

In fact, the institution's own bottom line comes into play, says D.M. Hodnett, director of the University of Missouri System's Supplier Diversity and Small Business Development Program.

"If we can't help our communities thrive with greater economic opportunities, we, as businesses, are going to have problems in the future," Hodnett says. "If folks in our communities aren't strong economically, they may not choose us as an institution--they may not be able to."

The concept of supplier diversity also extends far beyond campus--though administrators say it hasn't become a major issue for students. An equally important goal shared by many institutions is helping these business owners develop the know-how to compete in the wider economy.

Missouri and several other two- and four-year institutions have ramped up their supplier diversity programs in an effort to close this economic loop, and to spread the wealth among entrepreneurs who better represent the demographics of the communities that surround campus.

A source of new ideas

At Kent State University in Ohio, Veronica Cook-Euell sees herself as an economic matchmaker. As manager of the university's supplier diversity program, she coaches less experienced business owners on how to communicate with buyers on and off campus. She also gives guidance on meeting with purchasers, how to submit a bid and how to follow up--even if the businesses aren't awarded a contract.

It's all about helping diverse entrepreneurs grow their companies, she says. "We coach, we mentor, we advocate. I'm encouraging them about how to get business not just from us, but from other state agencies."

For purchasers on Kent State's eight campuses, Cook-Euell is building an online database of diverse suppliers, which will include descriptions of each business's capabilities. Photographs of completed work can also be uploaded to the database.

Cook-Euell also spends time visiting various campus department leaders to make them aware of the database and the opportunities to do business with diverse suppliers. And when there is work to be bid, she makes sure these suppliers get a chance to meet with campus decision-makers.

"You should diversify your spend because you don't always know what level of service or products is out there," Cook-Euell says. "If you're still buying from the same person because that's what you've always done, you don't know about new or innovative ideas or cost-saving methods."

Hodnett, at the University of Missouri, says supplier diversity can succeed only if there is widespread campus buy-in and support from the top. To that end, achieving supplier diversity is built into the performance objectives of key personnel such as the university's chief financial officer, chief procurement officer, and the head of design and construction. Each of these employees, including Hodnett, has numerical goals to meet.

This brings more diverse suppliers to the table when work is being contracted. And even when these diverse businesses don't win the bid, Hodnett will make sure they know where they fell short so they can make improvements for the next opportunity.

Across higher ed, institutions should also make a more concerted effort to bring diverse entrepreneurs into their business incubators and extension programs, he says.

"When you have somebody with a really good idea and a really good business mind, that's an opportunity for you, as a university system, to help grow these businesses," Hodnett says. "We should always look for ways we can help suppliers who we think are going to be good partners, who will help us succeed."

Reflecting communities

A number of community colleges now place supplier diversity at the forefront of their traditional role of supporting regional economies. …

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