WBE Certification Opens Doors To Growth

October 15, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — The topic of Women’s Business Enterprise certification is bound to come up at the Michigan Women’s Business Council annual conference and expo in Novi this week because the certification program is one of the council’s major strengths. 

Diana Farnham, MWBC events manager, said about 600 people are expected to attend the Thursday-through-Friday conference. The 400-member Michigan Women’s Business Council is one of 14 affiliates of the Women Enterprise Business National Council.

WBE certification is one of the most widely recognized and respected certifications in the nation, according to the national council. The organization provides a strict certification process that includes a detailed notarized affidavit, client interviews, site visits and confirmation that the business is owned, managed and controlled by a woman or group of women who hold at least 51 percent ownership in the company.

WBE certification is accepted by thousands of U.S. companies and a number of federal and government agencies. Farnham said the major benefit of certification is that it helps women-owned businesses access prospective client companies and start the initial conversations about doing business with them.

“Getting your foot in the door with a large corporation such as Ford Motors would be difficult, whereas the WBE certification catches their attention,” Farnham remarked. “It’s held to a high standard, and companies do recognize it.”

That has certainly been the case for Beverly Wall, owner and CEO of Languages International Inc.

“Certification hasn’t guaranteed us business, that’s not it at all,” Wall said. “It just has given us a calling card such that when I call these corporations and explain who I am, they’re receptive, they’ll listen to me.”

But that doesn’t change the competitive landscape, because her company still has to offer high-quality services in a timely manner to get the business, she said. A second benefit of certification, Wall said, is that she became part of group of women running multi-million dollar businesses, and it’s a powerful network to have access to.

Wall and Rita Williams, CEO and majority owner of Gill Industries Inc., were among the first women in Grand Rapids to get WBE certification for their businesses— Gill in 2003, and Languages International in 2004. Mary Gill, director of corporate relations for Gill Industries, echoed Wall’s feelings about certification. She said it gives the company recognition in the marketplace and opens doors for it to bid on business.

“But we really don’t get any preferential treatment because of it; there is really no guarantee we’re going to receive the business,” Gill remarked. “We know we still have to be as competitive as all of our other suppliers — maybe even more so — on cost, quality and delivery.”

Both Gill Industries and Languages International work with private-sector companies and don’t usually have occasion to bid on public-sector contracts. Michigan voters last year supported Proposal 2, which did away with affirmative action programs in the public sector that give preferential treatment to groups or individuals based on race, gender, color or ethnicity when it came to employment, education and public contracts. But up to this point, that hasn’t appeared to diminish the importance of WBE certification insofar as landing public contracts, Farnham said.

“We’re still trying to figure out what’s going to happen with that; we just don’t know what the long-term effect will be,” Farnham said.

Similar proposals passed in a couple of other states a few years ago, she noted. The MWBC will hold a workshop on the first day of this week’s conference that will address what happened in those states and what is expected to happen in Michigan.

Farnham said the city of Grand Rapids has always been one of MBWC’s largest supporters: “Even though Proposal 2 affects them more than it does corporations, they are finding ways to get around it,” Farnham observed.

“If people want to do business with women they’ll figure out the loopholes.”  

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