Columbus city Government increases spending with Diverse Suppliers by 50%

Columbus City - Columbus city departments and elected officials increased the rate of spending with minority-, women- or veteran-owned suppliers by 50 percent in 2017 – 12.6 percent of vendor contracts, up from 8 percent to 8.5 percent the prior three years.

The dollar value paid to diverse suppliers – $53 million – increased by 18 percent even as overall vendor spending decreased, resulting in the larger percentage.

"It's important the work we're doing reflects the diversity of this city," Mayor Andrew Ginther said. "The taxpayers and residents of the city of Columbus feel like they have a fair shot to partner with the city and earn business."

And an unknown portion of the increase came from recognizing prior years' spending was more inclusive than the numbers show: Purchasing agents and city officials encouraged existing vendors who were minority-, woman- or veteran-owned businesses to register as such so they could be counted, said Damita Brown, director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. (Registration forms are here.)

"We don’t see numbers like this without a strong commitment and strong collaboration with all departments as well as our external partners," Brown said.

The increase happened without any formal policy change or quotas. City leadership has been more "purposeful and intentional" in casting a wider net, Ginther said. In some cases, it requires simply letting diverse small businesses know that bids on city work aren't just for huge corporations.

"Often you continue to do business with the same people over and over again," he said.

The office that spends the most with diverse suppliers is the Department of Public Utilities, which runs water, wastewater and city electric divisions. Even as its overall spending on outside vendors declined by $70 million, spending on diverse suppliers increased by $8 million to $38.7 million, pushing the percentage to 24 percent from 13 percent.

Brown credited the department's outreach to contractors and subcontractors.

"They have taken the RFP evaluation process out of the hands of project managers and into the hands of leadership, who can look at the inclusion efforts on a much broader level," she said.

Ginther's office had the single highest percentage of diverse spending – 81 percent – but most of that is because of one large contract in a small budget for outside vendors. The diversity office, under the mayor's purview, issued a $435,000 contract in April 2017 with Mason Tillman Associates Ltd. to study whether there are racial and gender disparities in the city's procurement process.

City Council last week extended that contract with an additional $250,000. The study was put on hold last year because some federally funded utilities projects had been left out of the data, Brown said. Now the set is complete.

The Oakland, California-based consultants are looking at contracts from before Ginther's term, but what they find will guide recommendations on policy changes.