Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Meter Maids in the Office of Supplier Diversity

Things have been super busy post our Urban Entrepreneurship event with the White House, so I have fallen behind with my blog post about my summer internship with the Office of Supplier Diversity. However, today's opinion piece in the New Orlean's City Business presented the perfect opportunity to use my blog to address the misconceptions of the Office of Supplier Diversity, our disadvantaged business enterprise program, and our role in creating economic development for the City of New Orleans.

Let me begin by first stating, we are not meter maids as the opinion piece so suggest. Yes, enforcement and compliance of the DBE program does fall under our responsibility, but so does certification, outreach, training and capacity building for New Orleans small businesses.

To dismiss our commitment to ensuring 35% DBE participation on city contracts as a fundamental component of the City's economic development strategy, is out right ludicrous. In its most elementary understanding, economic development is concerned with maintaining local competitiveness and supporting business development, which is exactly what the Office of Supplier Diversity is doing.

It is without question that small businesses - firms with fewer than 500 employees - drive the U.S. economy. Small businesses create jobs, are more likely to hire at-risk individuals, and invest more in the communities where they are located. And it is the Office of Supplier Diversity that assist these small businesses owned by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals secure city contracts to sustain their businesses to keep creating jobs, hiring at-risk individuals and investing back in their communities.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Urban Entrepreneurship in NOLA

New Orleans Urban Entrepreneurship Forum
July 20, 2011 at Xavier University
Yesterday the City of New Orleans along with the White House Office of Public Engagement hosted an Urban Entrepreneurship Forum focused on discussing and identifying opportunities for urban entrepreneurs. Im really happy with how the event turned out.

Our team here in the Mayor's office got word from the White House less than two weeks ago that they wanted to do this event here. So its been stressful past few days but well worth it. We had over 300 residents register and 8 candidates compete for $10,000 in the live 60 second PITCH event done by 100 Urban Entrepreneurs.

Our Forum began with a conversation between Mayor Landrieu and Michael Blake, Deputy Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. Throughout the day we had three keynote addresses by John Hope Bryant, Deborah Elam, Vice President of Diversity from GE (and my sorority sister), and New Orleanian, Calvin Mackie in addition to the three panel discussion and breakout sessions.

Overall, I felt this to be a very inspiring event. Considering the challenges our country still faces with the economic downturn, this renewed entrepreneurial spirit provides the type of energy we need to build companies that will create and sustain jobs. I think that there has definitely been a level of hesitation when it comes to investing in an urban entrepreneur. For whatever the reasons, inner city business owners have lacked the ability to access capital and supports to take their mom and pop companies and turn them into high growth potential firms.

Listening to the business ideas for the selected businesses who participated in the live PITCH, its evident that there is no lack of talent here in New Orleans. Tying this back to the Office of Supplier Diversity and my internship, I see a real value to help build the capacity of these entrepreneurs through city contracting opportunities.

Monday, July 11, 2011


Logo I developed for the New Orleans local hire initiative. 
Most people look forward to Fridays because its the official start of the weekend, typically a chill day to wrap up the week. However, in the New Orleans Office of Supplier Diversity we take our Friday's very seriously. Two weeks in a row, Fridays have resulted in the start of new, time sensitive projects.  Last week it was crafting a presentation on a First Source local hiring initiative for city resident, and this week its planning for an Urban Entrepreneurship Forum with the White House. 

Me hard at work
New Orleans has been selected to host the second summit on Urban Entrepreneurship on July 20, 2011. President Barack Obama has recognized the critical role that entrepreneurship has played in creating jobs and economic opportunity and has committed his administration to creating public-private partnerships to support entrepreneurs. As part of this plan the White House Office of Pubic Engagement and Domestic Policy Council are engaging in urban entrepreneurship summits in select cities. The first was hosted in Newark, NJ at Rutgers Business School on June 6, 2011. 

So I expect this week to be extremely busy for our office. More details come. 

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Hit the Ground Running

So this week I returned to New Orleans and didn't skip a beat getting back to work on summer projects with the Office of Supplier Diversity. A lot has happened in the 3 weeks that I have been gone: the office has welcomed three new staff members. So with a full team, its all hands on deck to get disadvantaged business enterprises certified and winning city contracts.

With the certification and contract compliance roles in the office now filled, my priorities have shifted a bit to focus on policy development and outreach programming. Building off of the resources that I gathered from last week's WBENC Conference, a summer goal of mine will be answering the question for DBEs of "now that I am certified, what's next?"

This week I got the chance to meet with Melissa Gibbs of Gibbs Construction, one of the major general contractors in the Louisiana area. Melissa is the Business Development & SBE/DBE Outreach Coordinator  for her family's construction firm and was a member of Mayor Landrieu's Transition Task Force on City Contracting and DBEs. As the main point of contact for women, minority and small business owners interested in doing business with Gibbs Construction, my conversation with Melissa shed light on the fact that many DBEs in the city aren't aware of how to approach general contractors about sub-prime contracting opportunities. So helping DBEs figure out what to do after they get their certification from the city is extremely relevant to increasing the number of women owned businesses who win city contracts. Over the next couple of weeks I will be hard at work developing a curriculum around this as well as communication plan to outreach to certified DBEs.

Also, this week I got to sit in on a meeting with Aimee Quirk, Economic Development Advisor to the Mayor and my summer internship sponsor, which resulted in me assisting her on an employment project that will be presented to Mayor Landrieu in the next two weeks. More details to come on this ...

So while I may not have to work through the weekend to meet deadlines, everything this past week hasn't been all work and no play. I arrived back in New Orleans just in time for the Essence Music Festival. The festivities kicked off Thursday night with two parities hosted by the Mayor and Congressman Cedric Richmond and I was in the building rubbing elbows with some of New Orleans business and political elite. Tonight I'm off  to the Superdome to see the one and only, Kanye West. I have to say, I love this city!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

We are WBENC

Thanks to the generous funding from WAPPP and their From Harvard Square to the Oval Office program, I had the opportunity to attend the 2011 WBENC National Conference and Business Fair in Las Vegas, NV this week. 

The Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), founded in 1997, is the largest third-party certifier of businesses owned controlled, and operated by women in the United States. WBENC, is dedicated to advancing the success of certified women's business enterprises (WBEs) and connecting them to contracting opportunities with corporations and government entities. 

Me with Jeannie Maddox, Manager,
Supplier Diversity of Colgate-Palmolive Company
At this power packed conference, I've been educated on the impact the women are having in the market place and how WBEs are supporting some of America's top corporations like Accenture, Colgate-Palmolive, Dell, Ernst & Young, Johnston & Johnston, Pfizer Inc, and UPS. Did you know that women make 85% of the purchasing decisions in our country? Well, we do! It's amazing. Yet, in 2010 only 15 Fortune 500 companies were run by women. This discrepancy is a sad reality, but hopefully because of organizations like WBENC that will change soon. Over 3000 people are in attendance at the conference, many of whom were women small business owners in fields ranging from communications to construction. 

Me with Jeff Walker of
Colgate-Palmolive Company.
The energy at the conference is more than amazing. When it comes to thinking outside of the box on how to get business done, WBENC has sought out unconventional role models for us to learn from. At the kickoff luncheon, we heard from Annie Duke, professional poker player and author, who shared with us the importance of decision making. Today's breakfast speaker, Tony Hsieh, CEO of, quoted lines from the movie Notorious, and at lunch we enjoyed a breakdance performance from Supercr3w, season 2 winners of MTV's America's Best Dance Crew. 

So far, the conference has been an awesome networking and learning experience. Im excited to head back to New Orleans next week to being to implement what I have learned about establishing successful supplier diversity programs and supply chains. 

Monday, June 13, 2011

Congrats to the N.O. Small Business Initiative Graduates

Warren Buffett embraces Kendall Washington, 
the valedictorian of Monday's graduating class.
Last week New Orleans saw its first class of graduates from their 10,000 Small Business Initiative.

30 small business owners from New Orleans completed the Goldman Sachs sponsored program that offered training in management, marketing and accounting designed by Wall Street executives. 

Goldman Sachs has pledged $20 million in loans to New Orleans area small businesses as part of a nationwide effort to distribute $500 million to companies struggling because of the recession and housing crisis.

The program targets small firms operating in "economically underserved areas" that are having difficulty gaining access to capital through traditional means and those that need non-monetary assistance, such as business management classes, to grow.

The program included over 100 hours of training, one-on-one mentoring, accounting workshops and pro bono legal advice from Goldman Sachs professionals.

Local graduates represent a wide range of industries, including construction, pest control, retail stores, medical services, event planning, equipment rental, courier services and valet parking businesses and more.

10,000 Small Businesses  is an initiative to unlock the growth and job creation potential of 10,000 small businesses across the United States through greater access to business education, financial capital, and business support services. The program operates through a national network of public and private partner organizations including community colleges, business schools and Community Development Financial Institutions. The initiative is currently active in New Orleans, New York, Long Beach, Los Angeles and Houston, and will continue to expand to communities across the country. Community partners in New Orleans include the City of New Orleans, Delgado Community College, HOPE (Hope Enterprise Corporation and Hope Credit Union) and the Urban League of Greater New Orleans.


Thursday, June 9, 2011

Getting Caught Up to DBE Speed

Last week I arrived in New Orleans (in the midst of record breaking temperature). Fortunately I was able to beat the heat at my new desk in the Office of Supplier Diversity that houses the city’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) Program.  My first couple days have been spent getting caught up to speed on all the various laws and city ordinances that govern the DBE program.
State and local DBE programs were chartered under the idea of “leveling the playing field” for socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.  The histories of these programs began under the Nixon Administration in the late 1960’s with the establishment of the Office of Minority Business Enterprise (OMBE).  Since 1981, the City of New Orleans has operated a program for its disadvantaged businesses. The program was first established as a “set aside” for minority suppliers, guaranteeing that 10 percent of all purchases of goods and services by the Sewage & Water Board would go to DBE firms (Times-Picayune. Pushed Aside. 2001).

In 2009, New Orleans City Council codified changes to the DBE program (Sec. 70-432.1), establishing an overall goal of 50 percent utilization of businesses that were locally owned and 35 percent utilization of socially and economically disadvantaged businesses for all public spending or private projects that utilize public funding and/or incentives. Social and economic disadvantage is determined, such that the business’ ability to compete has been restricted due to discriminatory practices beyond its control (industry practices and/or limited capital and/or restricted credit opportunities, etc).

Despite good intentions of the participation goal, the City of New Orleans has encountered consistent difficulty in executing this corrective public policy and hasn’t quite achieved the desired 35 percent level of DBE participation in city contracts.  And this is where I come in. 

A year ago, Mayor Mitch Landrieu, issued Executive Order MJL 10-02 outlining specific reforms to the DBE program. Working with Norman Roussell this summer, some of our top priorities will be developing 1) an internal DBE training curriculum for city departments and agencies, 2) outreach and social media strategy, and 3) a pilot alternative certification along with a whole host of other research projects and operational activities.

In the upcoming weeks I will be working remotely from Cambridge, MA and Las Vegas, NV where I will be attending the Women Business Enterprise Conference before returning back to New Orleans the last week of June.