In fiscal year 2014, Oregon State University spent $43.7 million on capitol construction and goods and services from Minority- and Women-Owned Emerging Small Businesses (MWESB)—up significantly from the $18.2 million it had spent the previous year. There was also an increase in MWESB as a percentage of total spend in the category, from 9.18 percent to 15.17 percent.
Thanks to Christine Atwood and Lori Fulton, the Corvallis university has stepped up its supplier diversity efforts, leading to the increase. Atwood is the administrative and diversity manager for OSU’s Procurement, Contracts and Materials Management Department and Fulton is the capital administration manager for the school’s Capital Planning and Development division.
The two joined forces last summer as OSU started to focus on outreach to MWESBs. There was already “a commitment of OSU to being a really diverse university,” Fulton said. “Diversity is a huge piece of what we do, mandated by the president of the [Board of Trustees].”
In their respective roles, “part of our responsibility was to put together our annual MWESB report,” she added. “We wanted to get more involved in the outreach as well as the reporting.”
The two have held on-campus events to attract interest from qualified businesses interested in MWESB certification, primarily from the Willamette Valley, and have formed partnerships with peer organizations and groups like the Northwest Mountain Minority Supplier Development Council.
Through the Council, Atwood and Fulton have made new contacts and learned to think “outside the box” when it comes to supplier diversity. “We work with Fernando [Martinez, Council president and CEO] when he comes to Oregon and he has a lot of knowledge,” Atwood said. “We’re not just meeting small business, but also starting collaborations with other agencies. It’s a lot about making connections and relationships. It takes time. It’s not an overnight process.”
“It is a pleasure working with Atwood and Fulton,” Martinez said. “They are fully committed to expanding opportunities for small and minority businesses. They are committed to this process despite the fact that they know how difficult it is to create an inclusive culture. We at the Council are just as committed to helping OSU continuously grow their diverse spend and have a significant impact on the Oregon economy.”
Recently Atwood and Fulton have expanded their focus to include outreach and education to other departments within OSU. Within the university, many people don’t know about OSU’s supplier diversity efforts and Fulton sees a need to help her colleagues understand and identify opportunities for MWESBs.
Calling it a “slow build” and “long-range effort,” Atwood said, “Overall, we are both committed to the idea of giving small businesses some support on the university’s part.”