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Diversity Business Enterprise Initiative launched at UTHSC

The University of Tennessee Health Science Center has launched a Diversity Business Enterprise Initiative to assist and encourage more small businesses and businesses owned by minorities, women, veterans, and those with disabilities to pursue business opportunities with the university.

The initiative formalizes efforts underway for some time at UTHSC. It also supports diversity business procedures within the UT System through its Diversity Business Enterprises program.

“This is a formal approach to something UTHSC has been working on,” said Jonathan Lawshe, director of Procurement Services at UTHSC. “This initiative is in line with the program at the system office.”

UTHSC hosted a morning workshop on Thursday to acquaint business owners with the initiative and with procurement practices at the university and with the UT System. Representatives from many area businesses attended.

“I think we, as the University of Tennessee, have a responsibility to do business with small businesses and minority vendors across the state to generate the economy of the state of Tennessee,” Ken Brown, JD, MPA, PhD, FACHE, executive vice chancellor and chief operations officer for UTHSC, told the business representatives.

Lawshe said the workshop was designed to be “a learning session for potential vendors to get to know us, our processes, and some of the types of goods and services we procure, as well as to learn how to register with us and how to get state certification.” The Governor’s Office of Diversity Business Enterprise offers certifications as a Minority Business Enterprise, Woman Business Enterprise, Person with Disabilities Enterprise, Service-Disabled Veteran Business Enterprise, or Small Business Enterprise.

Other entities, including the City of Memphis, the Shelby County Airport Authority, and the Mid-South Minority Business Council Continuum, offer certification processes designating businesses as minority or disadvantaged. UTHSC does not have the resources to set up its own certification process, however, it will share vendor information with peer agencies, Lawshe said.

“We’re not going to restrict any vendor who wants to do business with us,” he said. The initiative is designed to open business opportunities to an even more diverse pool of vendors. “This is a strategic effort to increase our spending with disadvantaged-, minority-, women-, and veteran-owned businesses,” he said.

Departments throughout UTHSC will be encouraged to seek out disadvantaged business enterprises for purchases under $10,000, which are not handled through Procurement Services. UTHSC departments will be expected to solicit at least one such business for purchases between $10,000 and $49,999. Formal purchases handled through Procurement Services will identify disadvantaged business enterprises that will be invited to participate in the solicitation.

“The Health Science Center has been here a hundred years. It probably will be here for another hundred years, so whether it’s you and the future of your business, or the legacy of your business and whoever takes it over, there’s business continuity you can have just by establishing a relationship with us,” Dr. Brown said.

“We would much rather invest resources on local minority and women-owned businesses in this community than we would in some general contractor out of wherever,” he said.

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