LVEDC Council Links Minority Businesses with Buyers of Goods, Services

By Colin McEvoy on August 29, 2016

This article, written by LVEDC Director of Communications Colin McEvoy, originally appeared in a special diversity issue of Lehigh Valley Business on August 29, 2016. It is adapted from a story that previously appeared on the LVEDC blog. Click here for the link to the full original LVB story.

The 2015 Lehigh Valley Meet the Buyers Expo. This event is just one way LVEDC’s Local Sourcing and Business Diversity Council helps to facilitate successful purchasing arrangements for Lehigh Valley companies

The 2015 Lehigh Valley Meet the Buyers Expo. This event is just one way LVEDC’s Local Sourcing and Business Diversity Council helps to facilitate successful purchasing arrangements for Lehigh Valley companies

As co-owner of EBC Printing in Trexlertown, Murtaza Jaffer knows firsthand the challenges of running a minority-owned business. That’s why the Lehigh Valley Meet the Buyers Expo last year was a big help to him.

The biannual expo allows small businesses in the Lehigh Valley to meet face-to-face with dozens of government and private industry procurement professionals to discuss business opportunities and possible purchasing arrangements.

“It gave small minority-owned businesses like myself the opportunity to introduce ourselves and our services to well-known companies in the area,” Jaffer said. “Getting that face-to-face interaction and the chance to set up meetings with purchasing agents for these companies is a great opportunity for us.”

The Meet the Buyers Expo – which will be held again on Oct. 18, 2017, at SteelStacks in Bethlehem, is one of the primary initiatives of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation‘s (LVEDC) Local Sourcing and Business Diversity Council, and just one of several ways the council is helping small businesses and minority-owned companies in the region.

“We are very excited that the Buyers Expo has been such a successful venue for connecting our small-business sector with some of our larger sourcing prospects,” said Michelle Landis, member of the council. “The relationships that we have fostered help us achieve our goal of providing growth opportunities for local small businesses with an emphasis on minority, veteran and woman-owned companies.”

Supporting diverse businesses

While the council provides support services for all small businesses, it pays particular focus to more diverse businesses. For example, it provides resources and advice on how to obtain minority-, veteran- or woman-owned business certification, a process that can be very confusing or time consuming.

The council helps companies identify educational and training opportunities at local, state and national levels through such agencies as the federal Small Business Administration and the Small Business Development Center at Lehigh University, Landis said.

It also provides networking opportunities for minority-owned businesses to learn from each other and provides a list of support services that can assist in growing and sustaining such businesses, including loan programs and financial assistance.

But the council’s signature initiative is the Meet the Buyers Expo, and several of the Lehigh Valley’s largest companies have formed lasting procurement arrangements through the event.

They include the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem, one of several regional businesses strongly committed to sourcing goods and services locally and through minority- and woman-owned businesses.

“We have had many successful partners from the Lehigh Valley, some from pre-opening to present day,” said Jodi Sieger, director of brand marketing at Sands, which opened in 2009. “We try to include local and diverse businesses in our entire procurement process whenever possible.”

Creating partnerships

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission procures about $19 million annually in goods and services from small, minority-, woman- and veteran-owned business, including many in the Lehigh Valley.

For example, a company it connected with during the Meet the Buyers Expo now provides recycling bins for all 23 of the commission’s facilities.

“I was very impressed with the Meet the Buyers Expo,” said Myneca Ojo, director of diversity and inclusion at the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. “… The relationship with the LVEDC Local Sourcing and Business Diversity Council continues to allow for partnerships that extend outreach beyond the area.”

Likewise, the Tobyhanna Army Depot’s local purchasing footprint includes Northampton and Lehigh counties, according to its small business specialist David Kern.

These arrangements not only benefit the depot, Kern said, but the contracts awarded help foster economic development throughout the Lehigh Valley.

“We like to be a good business partner,” Kern said. “We love to work with local partners if we can identify them, and this is how the expo helped us.

“We start local and branch out from there, and we always try to give local companies the chance.”

The council coordinates the expo with nine other Lehigh Valley small-business organizations: Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley; Community Action Development Corporations of Allentown and Bethlehem; Lehigh Valley Workforce Development Board; Lehigh University Small Business Development Center; Nazareth-Bath Area Chamber of Commerce; Manufacturers Resource Center; Slate Belt Area Chamber of Commerce; and Whitehall Area Chamber of Commerce.

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