A ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new facility is a celebratory event, bringing together the project owner, subcontractors, key partners, community members and a diverse mix of suppliers. It is an opportunity to reflect on project challenges, highlight innovative solutions and acknowledge forthcoming benefits.

Taking a holistic view of this overall event, you quickly realize all who made it possible. At the ribbon-cutting alone, the celebration warrants additional services such as food and drinks, decorations and flowers, event setup, audio visual and informational materials.

Outside of the original project scope and related services are operations teams who diligently work behind the scenes to also advance the project. There are legal advisers managing contracts, human resources teams hiring quality professionals, IT services facilitating technological needs, and finance teams keeping procurement and budgets on track.

Delivering safe, innovative and quality projects requires a comprehensive team. While this is commonly understood, it is not always widely recognized. Just as an operations team can be “out of sight, out of mind” when it comes to project support, so too can diverse suppliers be overlooked in terms of service offerings that fall outside the obvious scope.

Diverse and minority-owned businesses should be considered for all aspects of project success, from subcontracting work on a construction site and legal and governance services to human resources consulting and advertising.

Engineering, Construction — and More

It may seem that diverse suppliers are easily found in certain fields within the AEC industry. For Burns & McDonnell, that has historically been through engineering or construction services.

“We are focusing on new ways to engage diverse suppliers in more aspects of operations and support services — to expand opportunities for minority-owned businesses,” says Renita Mollman, chief administrative officer. “An inclusive approach to supplier diversity can increase our capacity to handle more business during peak times. It can also make supply chains more resilient and agile, affording us the ability to handle different aspects of business and increase our growth potential.”

Minority-owned suppliers bring different points of view into the company. Adding diversity of thought to planning and execution can help companies think outside the box when solving problems. Small businesses often come with the perspective of building things from the ground up — making such businesses more flexible and adaptable in most everything they do. Exposure to this thinking can be beneficial for a larger company.

Increased cultural diversity also contributes to significant growth in business innovation, according to a study published in Economic Geography. A team with representatives of different genders, races and nationalities strengthens innovative thinking and can boost a team’s intellectual potential.

Minority-owned suppliers also share the connections they have with their clients and organizations in their communities. This is often mutually beneficial as companies expand their client and community networks.

Paper Provider Turns Into Partner

Since 2015, Burns & McDonnell has partnered with South Coast Paper, a Black-owned copier and printer paper company led by Kenny Loyd. Over the years, South Coast Paper has evolved from a provider to a key operational partner.

Kenny Loyd, South Coast Paper
“We engage South Coast Paper in the planning of our paper needs for several offices across the U.S. and get insider paper industry knowledge to help anticipate cost fluctuations,” Mollman says. “And as our relationship with the company strengthens, other benefits have surfaced.”

Loyd also has an investment interest in Optus Bank, a $200 million, Black-owned commercial bank in Columbia, South Carolina, that is profitable and growing. Through this shared connection, Burns & McDonnell and Optus Bank have established a relationship that provides insight into a minority community where there may be prospective business. It is also quite likely that as Optus Bank grows, it and some of its business relationships may partner with Burns & McDonnell on future opportunities.

"What makes our relationship with Burns & McDonnell beneficial to us is its procurement team,” Loyd says. “The team has done a phenomenal job of always looking at opportunities and seeing how suppliers like us can meet the needs that their corporation has."

Companies of all sizes and specialties can benefit from engaging minority-owned businesses to support a broad range of operations. With a proactive and inclusive approach, a well-rounded, comprehensive team delivers smart business decisions and distinctive results.


This post is part of Together By Design, a quarterly business diversity newsletter published by Burns & McDonnell to advance a community of inclusion. This newsletter features stories of great opportunity, leaders who bring out the best in others, innovative approaches, and diverse perspectives that shape the business community and the world at large.

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