KSU strives to reach minority businesses, greater economy

Christina Stavale

Minority business owners now have a chance to get an extra boost with the help of Kent State and two businesses in Akron.

Kent State, Akron Urban League and Akron SCORE recently teamed together to form the Partnership for the Minority Business Accelerator – a partnership that will reach out and provide guidance for businesses owned by blacks and Hispanics.

K. Marie David, director of marketing for regional development, said the partnership began because a survey of Northeast Ohio’s economy revealed that the community was not as engaged in racial inclusion, ethnic diversity and individual entrepreneurship as it could be.

“Minority businesses do need this kind of aid,” David said. “They have not historically been served as well as other small businesses for these kind of services.”

The kind of services the partnership will provide, David said, are mentoring, counseling and providing resources.

It will prepare the businesses to be suppliers for places like Kent State, which has been working for the past three years to buy more supplies from minority- and woman-owned businesses. This is called the university’s supplier diversity plan.

“It fits in well with the diversity goals at the university,” David said, “and it also fits in with the Advance Northeast Ohio action plan for the region, which identified ethnic diversity and racial inclusion as important factors for economic growth.”

A larger goal

Steve Michael, vice provost for diversity, said he knows of only one other university in Ohio – Case Western Reserve – that has a specific plan of action to buy supplies from diverse businesses.

This year, in particular, the university has spent even more money to patronize minority- and woman-owned businesses. In this fiscal year’s first quarter, the university has already spent half of what it spent all last year on supplies from these businesses.

With things going the way they are, Michael said they are on track to spend far beyond the roughly $6 million they spent last year on supplier diversity.

One reason why this year has been more successful, Michael said, is because they are going beyond just buying supplies.

“What’s different this year is we are beginning to capture (minority- and woman- owned) construction (companies),” he said. “Because of that, we are bound to see the numbers go up.”

Despite the supplier diversity initiative’s success, the process is not always an easy one, Michael said.

“It’s difficult because of habit,” he said. “You tend to buy certain things in certain places. It takes an effort to change your habit.”

Reaching out to diverse companies doesn’t take any extra money.

“People have a myth that if it is a woman-owned business or a minority-owned business, that it will be more expensive,” Michael said. “Sometimes it’s cheaper because they want to compete.”

This kind of initiative can also help the greater economy, Michael said, because it prevents businesses from falling apart.

“The best way to help the greater economy is to make sure that businesses do not go under,” he said. “And that means we need to patronize as many businesses as possible. If businesses are strong, it will impact the economy.”

Contact minority affairs reporter Christina Stavale at [email protected].