Government and Human Resources

Minority council seeking foothold

Organization argues laying groundwork with diverse leadership will help with diverse recruitment long term.

January 10, 2020
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In the past few years, the Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council has invested its time and resources to help corporations and minority business enterprises to become more engaged in West Michigan. The organization has been meeting with companies in Grand Rapids and West Michigan to raise awareness but, so far, hasn’t generated much visibility for its efforts.

The MMSDC operates on four pillars of service: certifying MBEs so corporate members can do business with confidence; developing MBEs through workshops, training programs and events; connecting MBEs with fellow buyers, executives and business owners; and advocating on behalf of the minority business community.

Andrew Sims, vice president of the MMSDC, said public perception remains focused on only the certification pillar, while the organization’s advocacy for minority suppliers is largely unknown in West Michigan.

“We spent an inordinate amount of time over the last five years, not only to advocate, but to change the minority business landscape,” Sims said. “It’s hard because there’s a closed-mindedness.”

This closed-mindedness toward leadership diversity ultimately is damaging to West Michigan’s talent pool, Sims said. While the community screams for talent, Sims said laying the groundwork with diverse leadership must come before diverse recruitment or else that recruitment is not sustainable long term.

“They are absent supplier diversity, and that is the glue that attracts minority talent,” Sims said. “If diverse talent can go anywhere in the world, why would they come to West Michigan? You can look around and see faces that look different, but the community structure and ownership levels have stayed the same.”

Michelle Sourie Robinson, president and CEO of the MMSDC, said her organization drives about $36 billion in economic impact between corporations and certified MBEs every year — $21 billion of which is in direct contracts with product and service suppliers.

“Growth is measured simply,” Robinson said. “The number I’m most proud of is that $36 billion in economic impact. That’s reflective of corporations who have committed to diversifying their supplier base. Andrew works tirelessly to ensure we’re working with corporations that want to move the needle.”

Robinson said it’s enough for even a small group of three corporations committed to diversifying their leadership to move the needle toward equitable business representation. She pointed to the success of MMSDC member Rush Group, which is a minority-owned, tier one OEM supplier in Detroit.

Rush Group began as Rush Trucking, founded by Andra Rush, a Mohawk Native American, in 1984. Rush continued to acquire trucking companies throughout the 1990s. The company has since grown to 3,000 employees and 20 locations in the U.S. and Canada.

“The way businesses like Rush Group are growing is because somebody is intentional and deliberate about growing minority firms,” Robinson said. “People say why does it matter the gender or race of our suppliers? I would agree, but if you look around and see that all your suppliers are the same gender and race, something else is afoot.”

One of the MMSDC’s efforts launched in the past couple of years is Campaign for Growth, which offers a wide range of programming targeting Native American and women business owners, as well as workforce development issues. The program has so far raised $1.5 million for these initiatives.

Through Campaign for Growth, the MMSDC works with the economic development arms of tribal communities across Michigan that want to diversify their economic pipelines away from the gaming industry.

The MMSDC also announced early in January a formal partnership with Plug and Play, a Silicon Valley tech incubator, which serves as an early stage investor, accelerator and corporate innovation platform.

Plug and Play helped kick-start major tech companies like PayPal, Dropbox and more.

Robinson hopes to extend the same advantages to tech-based MBEs when Plug and Play opens in Detroit in June. The program wants to ensure at least 40% of businesses that go through Plug and Play are woman and minority owned.

Supplier diversity is a multifaceted issue, but to tackle all points, the MMSDC works closely with corporate partners across the state, gathering information and feeding it back to MBE partners as useful information to help them grow their businesses.

“For us, communities are sustained not just from the people you employ, but from entrepreneurs that make up the backbone of that community,” Robinson said. “We believe when you have entrepreneurs that are established throughout the community, they not only create jobs but they take care of their community.”

“We have definitely elevated the discussion,” Sims said. “We can take ignorance off the table so people can’t say they don’t know. At this point, it’s on the CEOs to embrace the topic and decide if they want to move it forward.”

The MMSDC represents about 1,200 certified MBEs in the state of Michigan. Businesses come in a variety of sizes, from under $100,000 to $13 billion in annual revenue.

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