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Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools strives for suppliers as diverse as students

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System believes in serving the holistic needs of the children and communities it serves.

This means opening new doors to learning, accelerating academic achievement and employing minority, women and small business owners to deliver essential services.

"We feel our suppliers should be as diverse as our student population," said Chiquitha Lloyd, Minority/Women/Small Business Enterprise Program administrator for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. "It's very important for us to have an inclusive policy in place. My office monitors and assists schools in finding diverse suppliers and monitoring how we spend those dollars."

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is one of at least two public school systems in the state that has a designated professional on staff to ensure that economic inclusion is more than a notion. The school system has a database of more than 1,500 suppliers, 400 to 700 of whom may be actively working on a variety of goods and service contracts and construction-related projects at any given time, depending on the system's procurement and construction cycle.

Lloyd also puts policy into practice by working with NCIMED to notify minority, women and small business owners about construction-related opportunities.

"NCIMED is one of our valued strategic partners who assist in the notification process," said Lloyd, who is also chairwoman of the Carolinas-Virginia Minority Supplier Development Council. "It is how we get the word out about the various bid opportunities and how minority suppliers can compete for projects. You may have as many as 35 to 40 different packages within one project they can bid on."

NCIMED clients have access to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' building plans through the Construction Resource Centers of North Carolina. These NCIMED-run centers offer services and support to help small, minority and women-owned businesses identify and compete for construction-related projects. Its Construction Plan Rooms enable NCIMED clients to review and copy construction plans for current projects and use estimating software to prepare bids and an online database of current bid opportunities.

Metcon, a long-time and distinguished NCIMED client, was recently awarded a contract to build a new $21 million elementary school for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. The school is expected to be completed by fall 2015.

For Lloyd, it's not only about hiring minority suppliers, it's about ensuring the value and integrity of the program by setting aspirational goals for participation and engaging contractors and subcontractors. Performance measures are based on community engagement, overall diverse supplier utilization in dollars and percent, year-over-year percent increase, notification of opportunities, internal/external program compliance and capacity-building activities.

"It's a way for us to provide needed jobs in the community," Lloyd said. "We are here to support families holistically, and that means employing those families and providing jobs for them within the community."


Matchmaking yields mutual benefit for Merck and diverse vendors

Success is a two-way street for corporations and the diverse group of suppliers with whom they contract for essential services.

For diverse businesses, it means reaching new markets, growing and sustaining annual revenues and creating jobs.

For corporations, having a diverse supplier base helps them sharpen their competitive edge by understanding the needs of an increasingly global marketplace while making critical investments in small, women-owned and minority-owned businesses.

"We think that Merck is leading the way to this success through our partnership with NCIMED, an organization that offers more than 30 years of experience helping companies realize business outcomes through supplier diversity networking, management strategies and supply chain solutions," said Willie A. Deese, executive vice president and president, Merck Manufacturing, for Merck & Co. Inc.

This partnership, for example, helped Mike Spears and Robert Willis, co-founders of Integrity Group RTP transform a short-term contract with Merck into a sustainable business relationship.

Spears and Willis turned to NCIMED for help in reaching new markets and customers for their janitorial and construction cleaning services company. NCIMED connected them to Merck as the pharmaceutical giant began construction on its vaccine manufacturing facility in Durham.

"We were given a 60-day contract in November 2004 and have been there ever since," Spears said.

Two subsidiaries of the Integrity Group – Integrity Facilities Management Inc. and Integrity Construction & Renovation – now provide a range of services for Merck and other companies in the Research Triangle Park, from commercial janitorial and construction services to contract labor for commercial purposes.

"Merck has really been instrumental in building our business," Spears said, "and we have NCIMED to thank for making that connection."

A similar type of matchmaking experience has transformed Gloria Shealey's construction company, as well.

"Our relationship with Merck has enabled us to establish the pharmaceutical segment of our manufacturing construction portfolio," said Shealey, CEO of The Daniele Company, general contractor, construction manager and real estate consultant for commercial projects.

"This has become a platform of expertise we are able to bring to the marketplace," she said. "It has been important to our portfolio strategy and is a consistent part of our revenues, as well."

For Merck, a commitment to supplier diversity is embedded in the company's DNA.

"It is Merck's policy to provide practical opportunity to small and diverse suppliers to provide goods and services to the company as part of our corporate procurement process," Deese said. "The use of diverse suppliers is an integral part of our purchasing procedures just as equal opportunity employment is central to our personnel policies and procedures."

Having access to global companies like Merck is also important to minority suppliers like Warren Arrington, owner of American Safety Products. The Raleigh-based company performs construction site cleaning, provides safety supplies to Merck's subcontractors on site and delivers other services as needed.

"Our partnership with Merck has increased our annual revenues by 20 to 25 percent," Arrington said. "The value of NCIMED is getting access to the decision maker. Without NCIMED, we would not have that opportunity."

Women's Business Center client makes final of Super Bowl ad contest

For Barley Labs LLC, it came down to the Final Four.

The Durham-based small business that creates all-natural dog treats out of recycled barley from a local brewery was selected from nearly 15,000 companies as one of four finalists in Intuit's Small Business Big Game contest, sponsored by Intuit QuickBooks.

The small business winner of the contest, selected by popular online vote during November, wins a Super Bowl commercial.

"When we started this business, we had a lot of hopes and dreams about what it could potentially be someday," said Theresa Chu, who co-owns Barley Labs with Scott Beaudry. "At the time, it seemed those dreams would happen 10 years down the road. This contest accelerated the timeline so that our dreams could potentially come together in the next several months."

"We could have never gotten the exposure we have locally and nationally on our own," Chu added.

Chu and Scott Beaudry transformed their love of dogs and beer into a company in September 2012 by selling their beer-grain dog treats online and through local retailers. Beaudry came up with the idea shortly after his love for beer turned into an avid home-brewing hobby. Their dog, Barley, a lab mix, serves as the company's Chief Inspiration Officer and VP of Quality Control.

Chu sought the expertise of NCIMED's Women's Business Center of North Carolina, which helps companies like Barley Labs start and grow through individual business counseling, loan package preparation and networking opportunities.

"I'm always interested in talking with business owners about what sparks their ideas and hearing how they creatively approach problems, coming up with new solutions," said Alyssa Mako, assistant director of the center.

"With Barley Labs, I read through their business plan, provided feedback and discussed ways they might polish up the plan," Mako said. "We also talked about potential funding strategies if they decide to grow into a commercial space or retail location."

The process of preparing a business plan and entering the contest happened simultaneously but yielded big results, Chu said.

"We finalized the business plan and made the Final Four of the contest during the same week," she said.

"So often when you are a one- or two-person business, you are caught up in what you're doing on a daily basis," Chu said. "When you're ready to grow and expand your business, NCIMED is a great sounding board to take a look at what you want to do and help you get there."

Connections and technical assistance propel Greensboro contracting firm

When Cornelious Lamberth first approached NCIMED in 1995, he had two employees and business revenues of $35,000.
With NCIMED's guidance, Lamberth surpassed the $1 million mark in two years, employed dozens of workers and was listed in 2002 as one of the most progressive minority companies in America.

"They helped me build an infrastructure with my business, which included hiring a banker and attorney, and helped me get bonded," said Lamberth, president of C2 Contractors in Greensboro. The company installs local area networks for public schools, higher education institutions and Fortune 500 companies.

C2 Contractors hit the $6.5 million mark in 2006. Today, the company has a $90 million contract to complete a student union at North Carolina A & T University. In addition, it recently signed a joint contract with a $50 million firm, making them the largest minority-owned electrical contractor in North Carolina.

"Short of Jesus, I wouldn't be here without NCIMED," Lamberth said. "I've been in business for 13 years. I've never called them and they not come."

Lifelong entrepreneur succeeds in non-traditional industry

Traci Williams is an outstanding example of women leading the way in non-traditional industries.

The owner of Crescent Construction Services Inc. spent her childhood working for the family electrical contractor business. After college, she ventured out on her own and started several small businesses.

In 2006, Williams returned to her construction roots and with partner Julian Clayton created Crescent Construction Services LLC, a drain inspection firm. Within a year, the two began expanding the company's services.

Today, thanks in part to business counseling and assistance she received through NCIMED's Women's Business Center of North Carolina (WBCNC), Crescent Construction Services Inc. employs 20 people and has engaged more than $1 billion of construction projects over the last five years. The company offers a range of services related to drain, electrical, roof and flooring systems. Williams' husband, Brad Williams, has joined the team, adding his years of construction knowledge and experience to the mix.

The U.S. Small Business Administration recognized Williams' success with its 2012 SBA North Carolina Women in Business Champion of the Year award.

"Traci is an exceptional role model and mentor," said WBCNC director Briles Johnson. "She speaks at WBCNC events, sharing her experiences in industry, running a business and balancing home, work and life."

Williams also gives back through service on the Women's Business Enterprise National Council, the nation's leading advocate of women-owned businesses as suppliers to America's corporations, Johnson said.

Matchmaking propels Raleigh business solutions firm

Tim and Sonya Catlett started a business forms and supply company in their basement in 1988.

With hard work, persistence and some strategic matchmaking help from NCIMED, Progressive Business Solutions in Raleigh stands today as one of the leading minority-owned firms in the Southeast. Among its product offerings are printing, fulfillment/warehousing, marketing promotional items, janitorial and cleaning supplies, and office supplies and furniture.

"Relationships mean a lot," Catlett said. "NCIMED works behind-the-scenes to leverage their relationships with large corporations and encourages them to do business with local, small, minority-owned businesses."

Corporate matchmaking, done with intention and purpose, is a vital service NCIMED performs for clients and the larger business community. Through its networking events, one-on-one assistance and training, NCIMED is a trusted advisor to businesses, government agencies, policymakers and organizations that understand the key role diversity plays in ensuring business and economic success.

For Catlett, the corporate matchmaking partnership with NCIMED has resulted in $1 million a year in revenue. Upon NCIMED's recommendation to Duke University procurement administrators, for example, Catlett was able to secure a substantial contract to provide janitorial paper products and supplies. In addition, this allowed him to establish a new product line at a time when other businesses in North Carolina and across the country were still reeling from the recent recession.

Duke procurement executives say the relationship benefits the university.

"We have been extremely pleased that Tim's commitment to service has exceeded our customers' expectations," said Jane Pleasant, associate vice president, procurement and supply chain management for Duke University and Duke University Health System.

By diversifying its supply chain, Duke also strengthens the region's economy.

"We recognize that Duke has the ability to significantly impact the local economy by supporting diverse businesses," said Mary Crawford, director for procurement programs and small business liaison for Duke University and Duke University Health System. "We choose to work with firms who mirror the diversity of our customers, students, staff and patients."

Catlett's long-standing relationship with NCIMED also led to a contract with UPS, handling employee recognition products, including certificates and pens, in the United States and Canada.

A game-changer for Catlett and Progressive Business Solutions happened when First Citizens Bank agreed to move all of its print management and distribution operations from Winston-Salem to Progressive's warehouse in Raleigh.

For years, Catlett sought to develop a relationship with First Citizens on his own, even moving his own money from another bank to stimulate business. However, Catlett said, it was the mentorship that developed between him and Jim Mebane, a NCIMED board member and a former senior vice president at First Citizens Bank, which made the difference.

"Jim was always an inside advocate for us," Catlett said. "He would tell me about the bank's culture and how to approach them. He gave me encouragement and told me not to give up."

It's this last point, Catlett said, that inspires him the most.

"NCIMED and [its president] Andrea Harris are committed to helping minority-owned businesses," he said. "Just knowing you have an advocate out there makes you strive to do well."