Minority Corp. Of The Year

October 14, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — Seldom does a program without goals get rewarded. But in this case, tossing out the goals turned out to be more than its own reward.

At least, that is the moral of the story for the city of Grand Rapids.

It's also the point of the story as to why the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce will present its 2005 Minority Business Award for Corporation of the Year to the city next week for creating and enacting its Equal Business Opportunity (EBO) program.

"It means that we're being recognized for the very hard work — literally, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of hours of hard work — over a few years that we did to get to where we were very committed to supplier diversity," said Ingrid Scott-Weekley, equal opportunity director for the city.

"And then it became apparent that we couldn't operate as we operated previously, and that is to say with a goaled program. We needed to do something different. We wanted to do something that would involve the broader business community and would be something that everyone could live with," she added.

On Jan. 1, 2004, EBO emerged from a city investment of more than $500,000 and from those hundreds of hours as a new program for a new era on the first day of a new year. Gone forever was the troubled goal-oriented Minority and Women Business Enterprise program, a well-intentioned but sometimes contentious effort that drew threats of litigation due to its targeted numbers of involvement — which some angrily called quotas — for minority- and women-owned companies in publicly funded building projects.

"The EBO program is getting great results, in terms of minority and women participation and instruction," said Scott-Weekley of the construction portion of the program.

"There are two other pieces to the program, which have to do with goods and services, and professional services. We're still working on the professional services piece. The goods and services piece has been in place for about a year and that is an entirely different animal from construction. We think that is going to be a little more challenging to get to where we want to be, but just knowing that we have a whole new paradigm that is race neutral is quite satisfying."

Besides being honored with such a distinguished award, what Scott-Weekley said she likes best about the EBO program is that a business taking part can't perceive itself as failing or not having options once the plunge is taken.

"I like the flexibility and I like the fact that there are no losers here; those are key to me. The fact that it's race neutral is good because it eliminates the threat of being sued and having to go to court and use resources for that. It eliminates the divisiveness," she said.

EBO will turn 2 years old at the end of the year, and as far as Scott-Weekley can tell, the program is likely to live a long life. And as with any 2-year-old, EBO will mature and hopefully bring more great results — like delivering the city's first minority-owned general contracting firm or recruiting more such companies to do business with the city.

But for now, it's time for Scott-Weekley and her hard-working Equal Opportunity crew to reflect on what has been accomplished and to enjoy being rewarded for accomplishing it.

"It's a great deal of satisfaction to be recognized for that hard work and commitment that the entire team put into it," she said, "and that our mayor and city commissioners believed in us and supported us and provided us with the resources to go forward."

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