By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Mississippi State University and the University of Mississippi co-hosted a Minority Business Expo on Tuesday in answer to an Institutions of Higher Learning mandate to increase minority participation as vendors on state campuses.
“Our purpose is to collectively explore ways in which academic institutions in Mississippi can be productive in growing a diverse vendoring workforce,” said Dr. Don Cole, assistant vice chancellor at Ole Miss.
Ole Miss Purchasing Director Jim Windham said the decentralization of the purchasing process provides numerous opportunities for vendors.
“If you’re spending less than $5,000, the individual departments can make their own decisions on what they want to purchase and who they want to purchase it from,” he said.
MSU Purchasing Director Don Buffum urged business owners to establish relationships with department heads.
“Be there providing solutions. That’s the whole idea – relationships and solutions,” he said. “If they’ve got a problem and you’ve got the solution, they’re going to be buying from you.”
James Covington, owner of www.where2go411.com, said the IHL sees his Internet service as one way to promote minority participation in state university purchasing. It offers black-owned businesses access to numerous public-sector, non-bid, vendor opportunities.
“About six months ago IHL and where2go411 got together and said, ‘We need to do something to increase procurement opportunities among minority businesses in this state,’” he told the audience of about 70 people at Tuesday’s expo. “They put this objective out there that they wanted to increase procurement opportunities for minority businesses.”
Business people came from a wide portion of the state. One was Keanna Ward of DT Strategies, a Jackson marketing group.
“I wanted to see if (the universities) might need an outside entity like us to promote some issue – especially like recently, when (Ole Miss) changed the mascot, and it was kind of confrontational,” she said.
Christian Brown, a partner in the minority-owned Sociallyin, said the nine-employee company manages social networking for businesses, universities and other entities.
“They don’t always have the time or the know-how to operate what we do,” Brown said. “We offer our services to businesses and nonprofits to get their word out. (We’re here) to see exactly what their problems are.”
Thomas Woods, owner of Aunt B’s Soul Food Restaurant in Tupelo, said the connections he made at the expo “will help us relate to one another a little bit more and help one another get a little more successful, which helps the whole state of Mississippi.
“It seems like the www.where2go411.com is going to be a good catalyst to make that happen,” he said.