For small MWDBE firms, a lesson in procuring work from N.J.’s biggest companies

Panelists at SHCCNJ event: Do your homework, network — and keep pitching your services

It would be logical to assume the state’s biggest companies and organizations would be too big for small vendors, including those who fall into the Minority, Women and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise category.

In fact, leaders of those MWDBE companies might point to a lack of contracts in the past to prove that assumption.

It just may not be an accurate conclusion to draw.

Large companies are looking to interact with small vendors in the MWDBE category — but they say the vendors themselves need to make many of the first moves of the relationship.

Such was the takeaway Wednesday morning at a panel discussion during the 2021 Diversity and Procurement Expo, which was sponsored by the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey.

Doreen Taveras, the director of diversity programs at AECOM, a global architecture and engineering program management and construction management firm, said the company always is looking to connect with smaller vendors — especially those in the MWDBE category.

“At the AECOM project team, we really believe that community involvement and providing opportunities for local and MWDBE firms really helps foster the local economic development and neighborhood economic development,” she said. “It’s really a critical element for us to completing a project successfully.”

Taveras said AECOM does reach out to these firms.

“We continuously and consistently encouraged the firms that we have existing relationships with, as well as those that are new introductions that we’re trying to build the rapport with,” she said.

But, Taveras said firms should work to connect with AECOM, too.

“We’re consistently encouraging them to review capital plans for some of our local public sector agencies; we find that those are great opportunities for us to strategize on how we’re going to work together moving forward.”

Taveras feels smaller firms can help on big projects, she said, rattling off the billion-dollar projects that are expected to come from New Jersey Transit and the Turnpike Authority in the coming years.

But, she said, firms need to be able to tout their expertise and their achievements.

“We need firms to be qualified and we need them to truly share with us their experience in the architecture and engineering industry — share with us their staffing capacity for these megaprojects,” she said. “We need to truly understand how we can work with them and collaborate. We’re really looking for partners that add value and a differentiator to help us complete the work.”

She said a differentiator can be an employee with a local connection to the project or a past connection to a key group.

The key is communication. And networking. And knowledge.

That was the advice Allison Banks-Moore of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey and Jose Taveras of Wells Fargo offered.

“It’s so important to do the research,” she said. “Studying, researching, digging deep, doing everything that you can possibly do to know about those companies that you’re most interested in. So, when you do have the opportunity to talk to someone there, you know what you’re talking about — you could probably even educate them if you’ve done your homework well enough.”

Banks-Moore, Horizon’s chief diversity officer, said those opportunities come faster with networking.

“Networking is so critical,” she said. “Get to know the companies and list the ones you’re most interested in. Prioritize them and then start checking to see who knows who.

“It’s no longer six degrees of separation, it’s typically three degrees of separation at this point. Connect with people who know people at the companies that you’re interested in, and then start building that network.”

Taveras, a vice president of business development, agreed. He listed three keys to success to relationship building:

  1. Know the company, determine if the company provides products or services that connect to yours;
  2. Be sure your company is certified as a diverse business;
  3. Complete your supplier profile.

“Keep in touch and build a relationship network,” he said.

No matter how small you are — and how big the organization you want to do business with is.

So said Adi Adair, the chief financial officer for American Dream.

Adair said that, just because the facility aims to be the largest experiential entertainment retail center in North America, doesn’t mean the facility only wants big parts. In fact, Adair said the opposite is true, especially when it comes to MWDBE vendors.

“We want to be part of this community,” she said. “We feel very strongly that diversity adds to our guests’ experience.”

Adair reiterated the idea that the relationship starts with the smaller vendor.

“Network, do your homework, let us know how your company can provide services to American Dream,” she said. “And don’t be shy about what kind of services they are, because there’s all kinds of opportunities, whether it is with American Dream or for our tenants.”

Adair, in fact, said the facility is looking for tenants of all sizes, too.

“If you’re interested in being a tenant and you’re a small business, there’s a lot of opportunity,” she said. “People think, ‘I have to have millions of dollars to open a store.’

“We really are trying to reach out to all kinds of brands to make sure that the experiences that we offer our guests evolve into all kinds of areas.”