GRAND RAPIDS — The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce named Grand Valley State University as the recipient of its 2004 Corporation of the Year award, an chamber confers annually as part of its annual Minority Business Celebration.
The chamber honored GVSU for the dedication it has held to ensure minority vendors and suppliers are given equal opportunities to do business with the university, and for freely sharing its discoveries with others.
“GVSU has truly demonstrated their commitment to supplier diversity through their contracts for landscaping, printing, IT equipment, telecommunications, marketing and media services,” said Jeanne Englehart, GRACC president.
“They have also enhanced the business climate and improved the environment for minority-owned businesses through open sharing of their best practices,” she added.
GVSU is the fourth local organization to receive the highly coveted award, but the very first nonprofit group to do so. Previous corporate winners were Cascade Engineering, Gentex Corp. and SBC.
Ester Burns, who directs purchasing services at GVSU, said receiving the award makes a major statement for the university and her department.
“You have to have administrative support from the very beginning in order to make this a successful program. That speaks well for the program when they’re willing to step forward and recognize it,” she said.
“I’m ecstatic that we were also able to recognize our administration in supporting my efforts here,” added Burns, who has been with the department since 1985.
The university’s Supplier Diversity Procurement Program, established by Burns roughly 15 years ago, is the reason GVSU has achieved so much success with companies owned by minorities, women and disabled persons. All three groups are covered under the program.
The university made the program part of business operations, adding that its success or failure would either positively or negatively reflect on the school. The presence of that condition raised the level of awareness of it throughout the campuses, and also spread the responsibility for its triumphs or disappointments across all departments.
GVSU found suppliers that qualified for the program and did so by affiliating with multiple groups familiar with minorities, such as the Michigan Minority Business Development Council and the Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. In hindsight, it appears to have paid off handsomely.
Burns explained that the program has succeeded in recent years because the college established serious relationships with suppliers.
“We provide the avenue to initiate those relationships, networking opportunities where we bring the minority and women-owned suppliers in with some of our decision makers to meet one another and provide opportunities for presentations,” said Burns, who has a staff of four — a trio of buyers and a clerk — in the purchasing department.
“We continue to increase annually. We don’t have numbers in our goals. I guess it’s a good-faith effort type of program to increase our participation annually and we’ve done that over the last few years. We’ve got a number of departments that are willing (to take part in the program.) Now they pick up the phone and call us for sources,” she said.
A few years after GVSU began the supplier diversity program, the university co-founded the Regional Alliance for Diversity in Public Purchasing.
“We are education, some municipalities, and some business-resource groups, but all are nonprofit and public. We started as sort of a networking and mentoring type of effort within the Grand Rapids community,” said Burns of the desire to centralize purchasing efforts.
“Eventually we grew this into supporting the development of minority-, women-, and disabled-persons-owned businesses. It has come a long way since the early years and I think we’re starting to make some significant impacts on the West Michigan economy.”
GVSU Vice President of Finance and Administration Tim Schade accepted the award on the university’s behalf at the chamber’s half-day celebration at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park.