How Supplier Diversity Drives Economies Forward

Looking ahead at what’s new for your Chamber of Commerce and our broader Chattanooga business community in 2023, our in-house DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) experts have been working with key community partners to launch a pilot project aimed at growing the local ecosystem for supplier diversity. Lorne Steedley, VP, of Diversity and Inclusive Growth, Chattanooga Chamber, spoke with TREND on the importance of supplier diversity and how it impacts communities:  

Lorne Steedley, VP, Diversity and Economic Growth

What is “supplier diversity,” you might ask? If you’ve heard this term before but are uncertain what it entails, generally it’s a business strategy focused on ensuring the supplier base that procures goods and services for organizations includes historically marginalized businesses.  

In many instances, this approach can be rooted in the procurement policies and plans for government, nonprofits as well as private industry. 

How does one define what qualifies as a “diverse” supplier, then? Broadly, this refers to businesses owned and operated by an individual or group considered to be a traditionally underrepresented or underserved group.  

In the United States, most fall into the categories of small-business enterprises (SBEs), minority-owned business enterprises (MBEs), and woman-owned business enterprises (WBEs). 

Why does it matter? A 2021 National Minority Supplier Diversity Council report revealed that certified MBEs generated $400 billion in economic output that led to the creation or preservation of 2.2 million jobs and $49 billion in annual revenue for local, state and federal tax authorities. 

Historically marginalized businesses encounter barriers to starting, growing and sustaining themselves over time – including less access to capital, legal and accounting support, and networking – supplier diversity strategies can reduce these barriers to entry into the marketplace. 

In November 2022 the DE&I team hosted a kickoff meeting for a 2023 pilot project on diversity in procurement. With thanks to the Chamber’s corporate and lending partners for participating, the upcoming pilot is aimed incubating a diverse class of local vendors and contractors.

According to the United Nations, by the year 2050, 80% of the world’s population will either be Asian or African. What will that mean for products, services, and culture? For innovation and creativity, and finding new markets—how will that impact be generated and maximized? Organizations, cities, and regions that embrace diversity will win. Those that don’t, I like to use Blockbuster Video as an example of what can happen. They’ll become irrelevant or go under. 

What’s the Chamber focus? Because inclusive companies tend to demonstrate greater product ingenuity and a stronger, more holistic understanding of diverse marketplaces, chambers of commerce nationwide are focusing on economically inclusive practices to better support their member businesses and their local economies more broadly.  

On the heels of a robust community-input process, the Chattanooga Climbs strategic plan adopted by the Chattanooga Chamber in 2020 called for an increased focus on DEI efforts. The Climbs recommendation rests on the strong business case for inclusive growth through the lens of regional prosperity, economic mobility and inclusive collaborative leadership.  

We want to be able to project, in a very tangible way, that Chattanooga is an inclusive city —not only for building and sustaining wealth but also for creating synergy that draws talent and is viewed as a destination for opportunity. 

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