Published January 13, 2017
Dan Vivian has not always been warmly welcomed when speaking to community groups about the possibility of doing work for UB.
As assistant vice president for procurement services, it’s his responsibility to increase the amount of business the university does with minority- and women-owned business enterprise (MWBE) companies. The state has set targets of at least 15 percent of overall spending going to each group.
“At our first meetings, many people said it was impossible for them to get work at the university,” Vivian says. “They were frustrated.”
That may have been true in the past, but things are changing. Vivian, purchasing agent Linda Deni and the university’s buying staff are working to place business with MWBE firms. The result? UB has grown the amount of business done with state-certified MWBE firms to 41 percent of the university’s spending on services in the second-quarter of 2016, compared with just 7.5 percent in the same quarter of 2011.
And during that same timeframe, the growth of just minority-owned business contracts grew from 0.33 percent to 25.5 percent.
“We make sure that we are trying to find a diverse supplier base. We are concerned with spending locally, creating jobs and supporting Western New York,” Vivian says.
Supporting efforts already underway at UB, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has pushed to expand use of MWBE firms at SUNY institutions and state agencies. Since taking office in 2011, he has raised the goals for state spending first from 10 percent to 20 percent. When the state surpassed the 20 percent goal in 2014, Cuomo raised the target to 30 percent.
The first step is identifying minority- and women-owned firms that offer services the university needs. For that, Vivian and Deni attend numerous community meetings, host job fairs and collaborate with Kaleida Health and Roswell Park Cancer Institute. That shoe-leather type of recruiting has been successful. In addition, every firm that calls the university gets a face-to-face interview.
“A lot of these firms are microbusinesses without a lot of internal resources. They’re one or two people, so they need to be educated on how the state system works,” Deni says.
Then the businesses must be certified by Empire State Development as minority- or women-owned, or both. Although it is an online process, it can be challenging for newcomers.
The Business Development Office at SUNY Buffalo State offers free help getting certified, and the Erie County Medical Center offers a course on completing the process.
For Larry Stitts, a coffee roaster who operates Golden Cup Coffee Company on Jefferson Avenue in Buffalo, meeting Vivian and getting work at UB was “a game changer.”
“When he got involved, he kind of closed the ranks, putting UB’s missions and goals out front and pushing the right buttons,” recalls Stitts, who now supplies coffee to the cafes in Goodyear and Harriman halls on the South Campus.
And it didn’t stop there.
“Dan has been kind of a goodwill ambassador for us,” Stitts says. “He put us in touch with Tom Ulrich, the director of the UB School of Management’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership (CEL), who helped us qualify for a matching grant from the First Niagara Business Catalyst Program to buy a machine that produces K-cups.”
Stitts and his wife also took an entrepreneurship course at the CEL where they focused on developing a business plan and sticking to it. He advises other minority contractors to call Vivian or Deni to start the process of working with UB.
“When I go out for business, I’m not trying to replace anybody. I just want a piece of the action,” Stitts says. “There’s enough out there to share.”
Deni meets with every business that inquires about doing business with UB. She has met with more than 200 firms, and many now have contracts with the university.
“Approaching UB can be difficult. It’s huge, and it’s a New York State institution,” she says. “That can be tough to navigate.”
The organizations at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus also are working to increase their MWBE contracting. Representatives from Kaleida, Roswell Park and UB meet regularly to discuss hiring, and the groups host MWBE job fairs.
“The BNMC Inc., a nonprofit formed to address the shared issues on the campus, sees their responsibility as making those connections,” says spokeswoman Susan Kirkpatrick.
For Stitts, having the big players on the medical campus focusing on MWBE contractors is a step in the right direction. “All of these institutions have something to offer small businesses. They just have to carve it out,” he says.