Trustees discuss supplier diversity and economic development, equity, inclusion

September 16, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — At its meeting on Thursday, Sept. 16, the Penn State Board of Trustees Committee on Equity and Human Resources learned more about Penn State’s commitment to economic development and diversity, equity and inclusion through the University’s supplier diversity program.

Sara Thorndike, senior vice president for Finance and Business, and Duane Elmore, Penn State’s chief procurement officer, explained to the committee how the supplier diversity program benefits the University’s overall business enterprise by finding competitive, affordable suppliers while also creating opportunities for diverse and minority-owned business, including small business from across the commonwealth and neighboring states.

The supplier diversity program — which includes a supplier diversity manager within Penn State Procurement services and a contractor liaison in the Office of Physical Plant — works with vendors that meet the U.S. Small Business Administration’s criteria for being minority-owned, woman-owned, LGBT-owned, veteran or service-disabled veteran-owned, or companies that are certified through the federal HUBZone program for historically underutilized business zones. 

In the 2019-20 fiscal year, Penn State spent over $38 million with minority- and woman-owned businesses, or more than 6% of the University’s purchasing budget for goods, services and construction. Elmore noted that spending with diverse suppliers is usually higher, but that the onset of the coronavirus pandemic imposed unique challenges and restrictions not seen in a typical year. They noted the pandemic also created opportunities to work with new businesses to fill critical needs for personal protective equipment, with local woman-owned business Actuated Medical becoming the University’s main supplier of face shields.

In addition to working directly with diverse suppliers, Penn State partners with organizations including the Women Business Enterprise Council, the National Minority Supplier Development Council, the National Association of Educational Procurement and the African American Chamber of Commerce, as well as numerous state and regional diverse business organizations. Penn State also leads initiatives including the Penn State Supplier Diversity Trade Fair, which brought over 100 minority-owned and diverse suppliers to the University Park campus in 2019.

“Nearly half of all people who work in this country are employed by small businesses, which includes many minority- and woman-owned firms, so this really does impact the economic development of our communities,” said Elmore. “There are highly-skilled and diverse suppliers, some of whom may have started with a major company, who have grown their own businesses and provide the same talents at the same value.”

Elmore pointed to companies such as locally owned furniture company Supply Source, Michigan-based Native Green LLC, which provides nearly all trash and composting bags used on campus, and Software House International, which provides an array of software platforms and services to support the academic and business missions of the University, as examples of long-standing relationships and success stories that contribute positively to both the University and the economic development of the businesses’ home communities.

Continuing to support economic development and foster relationships with diverse suppliers is an important and ongoing goal, Elmore said. He said implementing new tools to identify diverse suppliers and expand reporting capabilities, along with combating the perception that small or diverse suppliers are more expensive than large suppliers are key areas of opportunity and focus for the coming year. Working with the Big Ten Procurement Supplier Diversity Council and planning the 2022 Penn State Supplier Diversity Trade Fair are also a focus of the future. 

“Penn State recognizes supplier diversity as an important component in meeting our educational and research mission while strengthening economic development, and strives to provide continued opportunities to our diverse supplier partners,” Elmore said.

Last Updated September 16, 2021