Addressing the issues and challenges facing minority- and women-owned business enterprises was the order of the day at the inaugural edition of City & State PA’s On Diversity, an event designed to bring together the players impacting and impacted by policies affecting how MWBE companies do business with the state, Philadelphia and corporations looking to increase the percentage of these companies in their supply chain.

The event, which was held at Jefferson University, one of the co-sponsors, along with Cozen O’Connor Public Strategies, featured a keynote address by Gov. Tom Wolf, who laid out in stark terms the need to make progress on making MWBEs a more integral part of the economy.

“This is not a game only open to some,” Wolf emphasized about economic success in the commonwealth. “This is open to everyone, but we’re not going to get people to want to get into the game if we don’t make it more open. I urge you to help make our society, our economy, more inclusive. We need to do this because if we don’t we will suffer.”

Following the governor was Kerry Kirkland, his State Deputy Secretary for Diversity, Inclusion and Small Business Opportunities, who keyed in on the need for embracing technology as a way to improve best practices for increasing the state’s proportion of contracts going to MWBEs, noting that Pennsylvania had begun the process by incorporating much of Maryland’s program, which includes the ability to track the percentage of MWBE participation in real time from county to county.

Despite the state government’s focus on technology to move forward, the first panel of the day featured a sharp dissent on its importance.

Valarie Cofield, CEO for Eastern Minority Supplier Development Council, who discussed issues from the supplier side while fellow panelist Christopher Fontana, Senior Director for Enterprise Strategic Sourcing at Jefferson University & Jefferson Health brought perspective from the client side, hammered home the need for both sides to get out from behind their databases to make real progress.

“If I talk to you and see your face, I care about you,” she said. “If I’m just looking at my monitor and my phone, I don’t get to know you.”

After a speech from Nolan Atkinson, Chief Diversity Officer for the City of Philadelphia, the crowd of 150 people also heard from Mary Stitt, Deputy Diversity and Inclusion Officer for the City of Philadelphia, Ryan N. Boyer, Business Manager for the Laborers' District Council and Philadelphia City Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, who all took part in a panel that focused on opportunities for MWBEs with the City of Philadelphia and the issues surrounding gaining entry into projects like the city’s massive $500 million Rebuild effort to improve infrastructure. One piece of advice that was offered on more than one occasion by Boyer: “Get a partner” for applying for city contracts and projects in general. “Team up – it will make you a stronger, more attractive candidate.”

 

Laborers' District Council Business Manager Ryan Boyer, one of the day's panelists, shown here with Paula "Iron Lady" Montague, the first woman to become a member of the city's Iron Workers Union

 

Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, right, speaks while fellow panelists Ryan Boyer and Mary Stitt, Deputy Diversity and Inclusion Officer for the City of Philadelphia, look on

 

Panelist Valarie Cofield, President/CEO of Eastern Minority Supplier Development Council, takes a moment with Cozen O'Connor's Kevin Washo

 

Valarie Cofield answers a question while fellow panelist Chris Fontana, Senior Director for Enterprise Strategic Sourcing at Jefferson University & Jefferson Health, looks on

 

Pennsylvania Deputy Secretary of for Diversity, Inclusion and Small Business Opportunities, and Sandra Dungee Glenn from state Sen. Vincent Hughes' office