Economic developers to foster supplier diversity

Grand Sourcing Summit will connect diverse-owned suppliers with purchasing organizations.
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A lot of manufacturers in West Michigan are starting to receive mandates from their upstream supply chain customers about the need, or the requirement, to do more work with minority-, women- and veteran-owned businesses as part of a commitment to corporate social responsibility. Photo by iStock

Large organizations often source products through one big supplier contract rather than several smaller ones, but an event being held this month will encourage buyers to give a chance to smaller, diverse-owned West Michigan businesses.

Grand Sourcing Summit is a June 29 virtual event that will seek to connect West Michigan suppliers owned by women, veterans and people of color with purchasing organizations to discuss procurement opportunities. It’s being hosted/sponsored by Pure Michigan Business Connect (PMBC), Grand Rapids Area Revitalization Task Force, Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, Local First, The Right Place and the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

The event runs 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and will include an overview of resources available to assist with business growth, followed by one-on-one virtual buyer-supplier meetings. While the deadline to register for the one-on-ones is past, individuals and businesses can still sign up at bit.ly/grandsourcingsummit to attend the overview of resources and learn more about how to win supplier contracts.

The idea for the event came out of discussions of the Mayor’s Revitalization Task Force, of which all the Grand Sourcing organizers are members, with the exception of PMBC. The discussions centered on how to be more intentional as a community to support local and diverse-owned businesses. Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss then highlighted the topic in her state of the city address earlier this year.

Participating buyers at the summit will include Butterball Farms, the city of Grand Rapids, Consumers Energy, DTE, Gordon Food Service, Grand Valley State University, Interurban Transit Partnership (aka The Rapid), Kellogg Company, OST, Rockford Construction, ASM Global (which manages DeVos Place and Van Andel Arena), Spectrum Health and Warner Norcross + Judd, and the organizers are actively working to recruit more.

At the event, Joe Agostinelli, executive director of the Grand Rapids Area Revitalization Task Force, will provide an overview of resources available, and Mayor Bliss will offer comments. Then there will be two sessions before the one-on-ones — “Doing Business with DTE as a Small Business” and a panel discussion on the “Successful Buyer-Supplier Experience.” The panel will feature a representative from a large buyer and a small supplier who were able to figure out how to do business together.

Agostinelli said the organizers hope the event will garner enough attendance to warrant making it a regular resource for West Michigan businesses.

“The MEDC has done a lot of these procurement summits, but we haven’t done one that’s got a hyper-local focus like this. The hope is that if we build it, people will come, and we’ll see some success out of it,” he said.

“There was a big push during the pandemic to virtual shopping and online shopping, and there were a lot of local businesses that were able to pivot and change their business model to support that. But there were a lot that, for whatever reasons, couldn’t or weren’t able to figure out how to effectively do that. And so, as we think through the economy moving forward, there’s a need for intentionality around where we buy things and who we buy things from. The hope is that this summit serves as the ‘kicking off’ of that call to action in the community, that these larger organizations are committed to it, and we all should really get behind that at our own individual shopping level and/or if we own businesses or run organizations that are buying a lot of goods and services, to think through how we can do that differently to support the local economy.”

Since this is the first event of its kind in West Michigan, Agostinelli said the Grand Rapids Chamber and the Michigan Small Business Development Center held webinars leading up to the event to help suppliers prepare their pitch before their one-on-ones with buyers and to help buyer representatives understand the value of breaking up larger contracts into a series of smaller ones with minority-owned businesses.

“Hopefully, the effectiveness of this (event) will be measured in how many new contracts are created because of it,” Agostinelli said.

Tim Mroz, vice president of strategic initiatives at The Right Place, said his organization promoted the Grand Sourcing Summit to its network.

“The Right Place has an over-35-year history of working with a lot of manufacturers in West Michigan — we have 1,000, 2,000 manufacturers in the area that are always interested in doing more business with local suppliers,” Mroz said. “So anytime that we have the opportunity to connect local buyers with local suppliers … this is one of those events.”

He added The Right Place managed three different small business relief grant programs last year that benefited a large number of women-, veteran- and minority-owned businesses, and the organization made sure to promote the Grand Sourcing Summit opportunity to those businesses, to “open doors that haven’t been there in the past.”

Mroz said from a buyer’s perspective, it certainly is easier to deal with fewer, larger suppliers that can meet most of your organization’s procurement needs, but that approach also limits innovation and the opportunity to make new connections.

“The other thing is, a lot of manufacturers in West Michigan are starting to receive mandates from their upstream supply chain customers about the need, or the requirement, to do more work with minority-, women- and veteran-owned businesses” as part of a commitment to corporate social responsibility, Mroz said.

“In many ways, the easiest way to do that is to start breaking up some of those larger contracts into smaller subcontracts and opening that up to more (diverse) businesses. The challenge there is many of these small businesses don’t currently have the sophistication to bid on larger, multi-tens-of-thousands and hundreds-of-thousand-dollar projects. And so that’s where the MEDC and the city and The Right Place and the chambers and a lot of these other organizations from around West Michigan can come by the side of these smaller businesses and provide that training, to make sure that they put their best foot forward.”

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