Growing the vendor community

Growing Vendor Community Benefits University, State, Local Community

At F&S, there’s a lot of work to manage.

The university has its sights set on new Illinois legislation regarding diversity of the people contracted to perform work on campus.

Starting July 1, 2022, the Contractor Services and job order contracting (JOC) programs will transition to a new goal. The State recently determined 30 percent of all work be completed by companies that are owned by minorities (MBE), women (WBE), or veterans (VOSB). This up from 20 percent, a mark set in 2013. F&S Interim Executive Director Dr. Ehab Kamarah is supportive of this Statewide initiative to help grow a larger and more diverse contracting pool. He sees that becoming more representative of the Champaign-Urbana community and surrounding areas.

“It’s part of our responsibility to foster a strong contractor community,” said Kamarah.

David Dowler, associate director of Engineering & Construction Services, Construction Services, has made increasing opportunities for contractors throughout our programs a part of his team’s culture through engagement and outreach.

Over time, the hard work has paid off. When he started with F&S in 2013, there were 3 MBE/WBE/VOSB contractors totaling 1.5% of the Contractor Services program spend. Through concerted efforts by the Construction Services department, there are now 18 MBE/WBE/VOSB contractors totaling over 25% spend in FY21 and tracking to exceed that percentage in FY22.

“It spins back around to giving people the opportunity to be successful and contribute to the community,” Dowler said. “I was a small-business owner at one time and everything back then was about word of mouth. You’d perform and try to slowly improve, have some more success, and gain more employees or tradespeople.”

Oftentimes, Dowler said, contractors might have five employees or fewer. Winning a job at the university represents a high-point in terms of job importance, pressure, and stature.

“In Champaign-Urbana, we have a strong contracting base. A lot of contractors have been around for decades. There are mainstays, but there are new options, too. We want to be a conduit to allow contractors interested in doing work at the university to grow their business and become profitable and a longstanding asset in the community as well. All of the contractors in our programs must show value and be competitive to work at the University providing a win-win scenario for both the contractors and the university,” said Dowler.

The contracting community has significantly changed over the years—fewer families have relatives in the trades than a generation ago—and Dowler places more importance on growing small vendors into larger ones. Consistent work through the university’s Contractor Services program can help those businesses grow.

“If you can help these small contractors grow, they can add to the workforce locally. There’s the benefit,” Dowler said.

The Office of Procurement Diversity’s (OPD) main goal is to ensure that small businesses owned by minorities, women, persons with disabilities, and veterans are included in the procurement process. As a University of Illinois System office, OPD prides itself on being a conduit for the underrepresented business owners throughout the state and to the department users on the three campuses.

Last year, there were several changes to the State of Illinois Business Enterprise for Minorities, Women, and Persons with Disabilities Act, “BEP ACT”, (30 ILCS 575/) and the Illinois Procurement Code (30 ILCS 500) that affect the university’s responsibilities. One important change is that the Act establishes that “not less than 30% of the total dollar amount of State contracts, as defined by the Secretary of the Council and approved by the Council, shall be established as a goal to be awarded to businesses owned by minorities, women, and persons with disabilities.”

Shauna Clayborn, OPD’s Supplier Diversity Coordinator on the Urbana campus, works closely with the local businesses as much as possible to help reach those ambitious diversity goals.

“Born and raised in Champaign, of course, I want to see progress in the community I live in,” Clayborn said. “When we elevate small businesses, we elevate our communities. We create a more inclusive economy. When talking to business owners, I often hear that sometimes they just feel like no one cares, or they simply don’t know where to go for assistance. Our office is here to help connect them to the right resources and provide training and outreach to show them that we do care—the university cares and is here for them. Let us help you navigate the process.”

“Working with F&S over the years, and showing that we are partners with the same mission, has helped increase our diverse spend tremendously. F&S Construction Services and Procurement leadership and teams, and many others at F&S have been great to work with to help support the supplier diversity initiatives. It helps when you have everyone on the same page. We lean on F&S a lot and are proud to call them our Diversity Champion. Having leadership and staff that are onboard is the only way to meet our diversity goals.”