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Visibility, Diversity, Community: Behind the Scenes at EPB’s Inaugural Supplier Diversity Day 

On Thursday, May 23, EPB hosts its first annual Supplier Diversity Day, an event that connects the publicly owned utility with small and diverse businesses throughout the region. It’s networking, relationship-building and celebration, all in one event.   

Multiple big-name industries – TVA, Unum, VW, Pathway Lending and others – will participate in the event, offering tangible resources, discussions, panels and networking opportunities for minority business owners.  

Like Calvin Woods. 

“They’ve been extremely helpful to me,” Woods said.  

Woods, an African American and Chattanooga native, owns Cal’s Headlight Restoration; EPB relies on him to service its fleet vehicles. 

His start-up business, launched during the pandemic, is one of many minority-and-women-owned businesses that comprise EPB’s supply chain.  

“In the last six years, we’ve spent $42.7 million with diverse companies,” said EPB’s Kristin Copeland, Manager of Minority & Women-Owned Business, “and it has magnified into $63.3 million in economic impact.” 

Each month, EPB contracts with at least 45 minority-and-women-owned businesses and for an overall annual total of 90. (EPB defines a Minority-owned business is defined as a small business 51% owned and operated by a minority, woman, veteran or service-disabled-veteran business owner with annual revenues under $4 million.) 

From HVAC repair to window washers, electricians to caterers, paper suppliers to plumbers, EPB’s supplier network is vast and expansive.  

“We are a public utility,” said Copeland. “You name it, and we at EPB are usually buying.”  

Since 2001, EPB has spent more than $93 million with diverse businesses, its economic report states, that in turn support 39 Chattanooga jobs and 64 jobs nationally.  

“EPB’s Supplier Diversity Day will be more than just an event – it’s a vital opportunity for small, diverse businesses to connect, learn and thrive,” said Darian Scott, Director of Economic Inclusion for the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce. 

“The EPB Supplier Diversity Day is a tremendous opportunity to expand the economic ecosystem and elevate historically marginalized businesses in the Chattanooga region,” said Lorne Steedley, Vice President, Diversity and Inclusive Growth for the Chamber. 

The Supplier Diversity Day – held at the Chattanoogan – allows EPB and other large companies seeking diverse procurement to meet face-to-face and shake hands with local business owners. Plus, EPB will offer keynote and panel discussions on what Copeland calls “outreach engagement” and “formative discussions.” For tickets, visit here

“We want to go into places where they are instead of waiting for them to come to us,” Copeland said. “We’re actively recruiting and building relationships and supporting through procurement.” 

Why? 

“Supplier diversity allows you to have a good innovative supply chain,” she said. “When you’re spending with small and diverse companies, you’re seeing economic impact that recycles through our companies.” 

Walk through your local high school and notice all the banners, posters and ads: they’re all sponsored by local small businesses. 

“Small and diverse companies – they’re all giving back to our community in so many ways,” she said. “That leads to the generational and economic impact we’re wanting to have.” 

It was at a similar event – Urban Vision Initiative (UVI) at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga – when Copeland first met Woods.  

“They had some personal representatives from EPB at our graduation. I got a chance to speak with them and presented my business,” he said.  

Soon, EPB signed a contract with Woods. 

“They gave me a chance and an opportunity to restore three of their vehicles,” Woods said.  

Several years ago, Woods began restoring the headlines on his 2003 Infiniti M45. (“I loved the vehicle but hated the headlights.”) Over four years, he tried toothpaste, baking soda and kits from every auto parts store he could find. Nothing fully worked.  

So, he began creating his original solution.  

“I had to experiment over time,” he said, “before I found out what works.” 

That secret? During Covid, Woods turned it into a formal LLC: Cal’s Headlight Restoration.  

His first customer? The employee at the auto parts store.  

“I ended up restoring his headlights and one of his friends and word got around,” he said. “I got five more customers. I gave them some business cards.” 

Those cards led to 57 more customers.  

Today, Cal’s Headlight Restoration – its motto: Headlight Clarity in a Cloudy, Unclear World – has restored nearly 250 cars.  

“The main thing is visibility,” Woods said. “Getting the business out there. Just letting people choose. Understand the process of what it takes to have a business … becoming visible in the community.” 

Visibility. 

An essential truth for headlight restoration. 

And supply chain diversity. 

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