UB working to increase business for diverse vendors
By SUE WUETCHER
Published August 30, 2012
Working with UB is proving to be good for business for 1 Accord Services.
The Buffalo company specializing in commercial cleaning, operated by co-owners Sherman and Helen Washington, began working with UB’s Supplier Diversity Program after acquiring its New York State certification as a minority- and women-owned business enterprise (MWBE).
After meeting with UB officials Dan Vivian, assistant vice president for procurement services, and Helen Gaiter, director of supplier diversity, the company—which already had substantial experience providing
cleaning services to other local colleges—decided to
bid on UB cleaning contracts.
1 Accord now has a contract to clean the Flickinger Court graduate student housing complex, as well as the first floor of the UB Downtown Gateway building—business worth more than $150,000—with plans to bid on the upcoming contract to clean the third floor of the Downtown Gateway.
These contracts with UB have enabled the company to hire several additional workers, and also has helped it win a contract with Erie County Medical Center and add three more workers to the payroll.
“Working with UB is great,” says Sherman Washington. “The procurement team helped us during the transition, and they are still helping us build upon what was started.
“The procurement department and others at the university witnessed our company’s professionalism and quality of services, and in turn recommended us to the hospital,” Washington says. “This type of willingness to diversify helps our company and the university to become partners in making our economy strong and our workforce vibrant.”
1 Accord Services is just one of many local vendors doing business with UB with the help of the university’s Supplier Diversity Program.
The program, approved last November by President Satish K. Tripathi, is designed to increase opportunities for small business, minority-, women-, disadvantaged- and veteran-owned vendors to do business with the university. It formalizes and advances UB’s ongoing efforts to ensure broad and equitable access by diverse suppliers to business opportunities at the university.
The policy—and increasing access to the university for diverse suppliers—is “the right thing to do,” says Vivian. “We want to help grow the local base of suppliers.”
Vivian notes that with UB’s growing presence on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus—and in particular the impending relocation of the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences to UB’s Downtown Campus—“We want to help create an environment that allows these (diverse) businesses to participate.”
Michael LeVine, former UB associate vice president and controller who is now vice president for finance and management at Buffalo State College, was instrumental in developing and implementing the Supplier Diversity Program. LeVine points out that while UB has worked for many years with minority- and women-owned business enterprises (MWBEs)—UB has been participating in the state’s MWBE program since it was created in 1988—the new policy comes at a time when Gov. Andrew Cuomo and SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher are urging increased use of MWBEs by SUNY and other state agencies.
“We’ve always at this campus and in our purchasing operation did the best we could to provide those opportunities and do that outreach. We’re much more aggressive about it now, no doubt about it,” LeVine says.
“It’s the right time to reinvigorate the program and focus on implementing the new policy.”
Gaiter explains that the term “diverse supplier” in the new policy goes well beyond MWBEs—it also includes small businesses, veteran-owned businesses and disadvantaged businesses.
“With our nation’s changing demographics, we want to make sure we are including everyone within this (definition of) diversity,” Gaiter says, adding that it “makes good business sense” to be inclusive.
But for any small company—diverse or not—the sheer size and demands of a place like UB, especially when complex state regulations come into play, make doing business with the university difficult at best.
“There’s an incredible amount of regulation from New York State…UB is not a simple place to do business,” Vivian admits.
And there are factors like cost and labor agreements that hamper these firms as well, LeVine notes. “If you want the lowest cost, it can be tough for these (small) vendors to provide that,” he says. “The units will argue that in these budgetary conditions they have to get the lower price.
“Again, we need to work with these vendors and they need to understand that they need to deliver” on cost and product, he says.
Adds Vivian: “We’re going to help local businesses and MWBEs work with us. That’s a big part of the goal and part of the policy: to help enhance the (university’s) ability to do business with diverse suppliers.”
To that end, Gaiter, who had been working with MWBEs as part of her job as associate director of procurement services, was named three years ago to the new full-time position of director of supplier diversity.
Her main task, Vivian says, is to match UB units with diverse suppliers.
Gaiter attends trade shows and trade fairs, and consults with the Upstate Minority Purchasing Council to recruit potential vendors.
She also is working with organizations like the Black Chamber of Commerce of Western New York, the Buffalo Urban League, the Opportunities Advisory Council and other organizations whose clientele are MWBEs or diverse businesses.
Lumon Ross, president of the Black Chamber, has supplied UB with the names of 20 businesses he identified as having potential to do business with the university.
Ross is hopeful this partnership with UB will lead to the growth of businesses in the black community, and praised the efforts of Vivian and Gaiter.
“For the first time I think I can say that UB is opening up to the black community and affording companies opportunities they didn’t have before,” he says.
“We just want to level the playing field. If the field is level, we’re ready to compete.”
In addition to consulting with groups like the Black Chamber, Gaiter is working one on one with minority- and women-owned businesses to help them become certified by the state.
While these companies do not have to be state-certified to do business with UB—“we want to work with minority and women-owned business, whether they’re certified or not,” Vivian says—state certification allows businesses to be included in a state database from which UB and other agencies draw lists of diverse suppliers when looking for potential vendors.
“It’s in your best interest to become certified because it opens the door” to many more business opportunities, Vivian says.
LeVine adds that UB has produced a pamphlet on the Supplier Diversity Program and how to do business with the university “to help small businesses navigate through the system.”
Moreover, Gaiter is available to meet with companies individually, and often can match companies with the appropriate person at UB “to cut down on the red tape.”
“Building business relationships is important for vendors,” Gaiter says. “Part of my job is helping them come together and develop good business relationships.”
Besides working with companies, Gaiter also consults with UB departments and schools to help match them with diverse vendors. She says the vast majority of procurement decisions at the university are made in the individual units. So it’s important, she says, to get the word out on campus about the new policy, the names of diverse suppliers and how units can gain access to these suppliers.
“This is not a procurement policy; it’s a university initiative,” Gaiter says of the Supplier Diversity Program. “It takes everyone on campus to support the program.”
Gaiter and Vivian are working closely with University Facilities and the School of Management as members of an initial “project team” to develop blueprints to increase the units’ use of diverse suppliers in their purchasing.
“The idea is, if it works for them (Facilities and Management), then we can take it and expand it out to other units,” says LeVine.
Facilities, in particular, has a lot of potential to use diverse suppliers, he says, since much of its work is “sustainable”—like painting, plumbing or cleaning, rather than one-time jobs—and is particularly attractive for a small vendor.
“Business owners are looking for an opportunity,” Vivian says. “We’re working with several of them now. They’re great companies. They just need a chance to show what they can do.”
For 1 Accord Services, the chance to work with UB has proven to be quite successful.
“We are confident we will be able to add more jobs to our payroll through this business relationship,” says Washington.
“The diversity team and the procurement department—and the custodial team—helped to make it all happen,” he adds, noting in particular the efforts of Vivian, Gaiter, Lou Schmitt, Tricia Kandler, Michael Yates and Mike Walker.