By Zach Komes and Noah Wexler
Washington, DC has experienced dramatic economic growth over the past decade; but that prosperity has not been broadly shared. The average black-owned firm in DC receives 8 times less revenue than the average firm in the city, limiting opportunities for hiring, raising wages, and increasing wealth in neighborhoods of color in the city. At the same time, “anchor institutions,” or universities and hospitals who are place-based and focus on mission, spend $2 billion per year on goods and services, only a small fraction of which remains in the DC economy, and an even smaller amount benefiting underrepresented businesses located in Wards 5, 6, 7, and 8.
At the 2016 Clinton Global Initiative University Summit, former President Bill Clinton said that today’s young generation is different than past generations because, not only do they care about important issues, but they also work with their communities to find answers to the “how question.” While many of the 18 DC-based large, place-based institutions have a community focus as part of their mission statement, many lack the incentives, connections, operational structure, and accountability mechanisms to establish local procurement programs. The Buy Local GW initiative, a campaign of the Roosevelt Institute @ GW chapter, has designed a three-level strategy that is seeking to provide solutions to connect underrepresented businesses with purchasing opportunities at universities and hospitals.
City-level coordinated strategy: After a 9-month long research and outreach process, culminating in a whitepaper published by the Roosevelt Institute, we have designed an intermediary program that will make it easier for local anchor institutions to identify, train, and procure from underrepresented firms. Based on Chicago Anchors for a Strong Economy, a coordinated effort will help anchors reduce administrative costs for supplier diversity efforts and provide firms the training needed to compete for contracts. We are currently working with a local economic development organization and with city government to establish a public-private partnership, currently raising seed funding to launch.
GW-level strategy: After lobbying from Buy Local GW, GW has established the GW Task Force on Local Supplier Diversity to study and provide recommendations for a local procurement policy. Associated with the GW President’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion, the Task Force includes 2 student representatives and is currently being staffed by a student. We hope that this effort will provide a platform to bring university stakeholders together to determine how our university can better contract with local underrepresented businesses. Next year, Buy Local GW will gauge student opinion through petitions and referendum and will present this information to the Task Force. Additionally, over the summer, we will begin constructing a holistic database of local business resources that will be provided to the Task Force.
Student organization-level strategy: GW student organizations spend $2 million per year on goods and services, ranging from catering to transportation to printing to office supplies. We are creating a Buy Local GW purchasing guide, to be published in Fall 2015, that will make it easier for student organizations to purchase from local underrepresented businesses in Wards 5, 6, 7, and 8. This semester, we are conducting outreach to businesses to identify firms that both fit the mission of the project, as well as will meet the needs of GW student organizations. We have tailored our outreach to catering, printing, and office supply businesses, and have received considerable enthusiasm from the DC small business community. Several businesses have agreed to participate in potential vendor fairs next fall. This event would provide more information about the local business scene to GW student leaders. We hope to eventually establish an incentive program to encourage student organizations to enhance their local impact.
As many local community members grow concerned about the future of racial equity in our city, Buy Local GW believes that the support of underrepresented businesses, their owners, and their workers by universities and hospitals can be part of the solution.