World of Difference Your New Short List

World of Difference Your New Short List

Mary AichlmayrWhether you’re shopping for equipment or evaluating a business partner, there’s always a short list of criteria. Is the price right? Does the offering fit your application?

Those kinds of questions stand the test of time. Price, service, selection—we all know the old supplier selection triad. It’s time to add a fourth.

On Nov. 13, Worthington Industries (Columbus, Ohio) broke the news that its rack and pallet subsidiary, Worthington Steelpac, had acquired a 49% interest in Lefco Industries. Lefco, the announcement stated, is a “certified MBE (minority business enterprise).”

As editors, we see acquisition announcements all the time. What we don’t usually spot, though, is a company proudly promoting its selection of a minority-owned business.

No doubt the three tenants of supplier selection were important, but for Worthington Steelpac, the MBE designation helped seal the deal.

“Worthington Steelpac and Lefco have been working in a strategic alliance for the past two years to assess opportunities for an MBE supplier,” read the statement.

Cleveland-based Lefco—a supplier of custom-made steel crates, racks and pallets— received its MBE certification from the nonprofit organization Northern Ohio Minority Business Council (NOMBC), an affiliate of the National Minority Supplier Development Council.

MBE certification is awarded to companies that are at least 51% owned, operated and controlled by one or more minorities—defined by NOMBC as U.S. citizens of African, Asian-Indian, Asian-Pacific, Hispanic, and Native American descent.

I called Worthington Steelpac Vice President Don Pulver to find out why these three letters were so critical to the selection process.

“Many top corporations have set a goal of placing 6% to 7% of their business with minority suppliers,” Don told me. “We noticed that many of our customers lacked access to a minority rack builder, and we established the joint venture with Lefco to help them meet the specific goals they have set for diversity.”

Makes perfect sense. Worthington Steelpac’s customers wanted something, and the partnership delivered. “Lefco will give Steelpac the potential to participate more broadly in the rack business by giving customers the option to purchase from an MBE-certified rack supplier,” said Don. “This investment gives us the opportunity to expand our customer base and our rack business.”

As minority populations grow over the next few years, we’ll see an increase in the number of businesses being started by members of minority groups. At the same time, we’ll see their buying power skyrocket.

A recent study by the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia (Athens, Ga.) predicted that, by 2011, minority buying power will increase 289% from 1990 levels.

Companies of all sizes are starting to realize they can’t afford to overlook minority-run businesses in their search for new and capable suppliers. That’s one of the reasons they’re setting specific supplier diversity targets.

It’s also about perception. The public wants more from Corporate America these days. It wants non-lethal products ‘Made in the U.S.A.’ It wants companies to think green. And, it wants them to invest in the economy and their local communities.

Everything you make, distribute and purchase has to conform to the needs and desires of end consumers—the kings at the end of the road.

Whether it’s through labor management or supplier selection, supporting our diverse population will be a business imperative as we greet 2008.

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