A supplier diversity program is a proactive business program that encourages the use of traditionally underrepresented businesses as suppliers. Having a diverse supply chain provides many benefits to a company, and it also helps smaller suppliers grow and can aid in growing business throughout the state.
“Diverse suppliers are businesses that are owned by a person or group of people who are in a traditionally underrepresented group,” says Robin Tabakin, president of the Supplier Diversity Development Council (SDDC) of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU). “There are numerous categories of underrepresented groups, but those recognized by the state of New Jersey include women, minorities, service disabled veterans and veterans.”
The SDDC serves as a resource to identify “best practices” and to promote related support activities and seminars for both companies and underrepresented suppliers. Tabakin says the organization’s mission is to enhance overall supplier diversity among New Jersey companies, resulting in the development of a strong economy and a productive environment for business growth.
“Our purpose is to develop ongoing relationships between the utilities regulated by the BPU and [underrepresented] businesses,” Tabakin says. “We are charged with organizing and operating an annual Business Opportunity Conference for Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprise and create ongoing diversity development programs.”
The organization also holds an annual forum for the BPU president to hear from utility presidents about their progress with prime and subcontract annual spend with minority, women, service disabled veteran and veteran owned businesses.
The SDDC was created by a resolution of the BPU, and – as such – is not an association. Tabakin says that membership is defined by the BPU resolution and includes regulated utilities, diverse business advocacy groups, diverse businesses, which are elected, and representatives from the BPU.
Tabakin says that supplier diversity is important because it increases access for diverse suppliers to utilities, as well as levels the playing field for diverse suppliers by enabling them to compete for contracts against each other as opposed to the larger, non-diverse companies, which can oftentimes be difficult.
“Smaller diverse businesses are also flexible and able to pivot quickly, which is important for purchasing organizations,” she adds. “It also increases the supplier pool, which encourages competition, drives costs down and increases quality of goods and services.”
In addition to the work that the SDDC is doing, Tabakin says that the state itself also plays a pivotal role when it comes to promoting supplier diversity. She adds that while the state has a number of resources including multiple diverse chambers and business groups, the New Jersey Selective Assistance Vendor Information database, and Gov. Phil Murphy’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, more can be done.
“New Jersey has a set-aside only for small business and service-disabled, veteran-owned businesses. Currently, there is no set aside for women and minorities,” Tabakin says. “The state needs set-aside legislation, which requires all state agencies to allocate procurement dollars to diverse suppliers. This will help small diverse-owned businesses grow and increase employment in their communities.”
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