Dayton, Ohio – As businesses, hospitals, governments and schools scrambled this spring to find the supplies they so desperately needed to face the COVID-19 crisis, the University of Dayton turned to and expanded its network of vendors, including many underrepresented companies.
“When COVID hit, the supply chain just broke down. Everybody was having issues getting products,” said Katie Overholser, a senior buyer for UD. “We learned very quickly we needed to do research outside our established list of suppliers.”
The challenge was “a true opportunity,” said Sara Harrison, UD’s executive director of procurement and payable services.
“Every sourcing decision is an opportunity to show who we are as a Catholic, Marianist university,” Harrison said. “We call it ‘procurement for the common good.’ Suddenly we had all these new purchases to make that allowed us to develop relationships with local, small, veteran-, minority-, woman- or disabled-owned companies that maybe we had never purchased from before or hadn’t done much business with.”
There were specialty disinfectant wipes for the Student Health Center purchased from minority-owned Medi-Shield LLC out of Centerville. Personal-sized alcohol wipes from minority, woman-owned AG Print Promo Solutions out of northeast Ohio. And, UD-branded face coverings distributed by woman-owned OmniSource out of Indianapolis.
Medi-Shield, for example, was created during the pandemic by Tokunbo Adelekan, a senior pastor at the Tabernacle Baptist Church of Dayton, to help address the need for more personal protective equipment in the Greater West Dayton community and beyond, with special attention to underserved communities.
“There is no doubt that the relationship with the University of Dayton has strengthened our company’s reputation. This shows that even as a small business, we are able to provide quality products and services to our clients,” Adelekan said. “It’s very important for the University of Dayton to work with companies that are owned by persons that reflect the rich and diverse global citizenship that informs this region. When working and learning with people from a variety of backgrounds and cultures (present in the community), members of the UD community gain a more comprehensive understanding of the intellectual and cultural capital within the region.”
Harrison said the University has always been focused on buying local, small, green and from underrepresented firms, and was able to step up efforts in recent years with the launch of UD’s online purchasing platform, Runway.
“That allowed us to renew our commitment to supplier diversity by being able to track who we are buying from in a systematic way across the university,” she said.
Still, Harrison said: “We can always do more.”
The work to improve supplier diversity is part of UD’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. A next step for the procurement office is to work to educate everyone on campus — from all departments making even the smallest purchases — on choosing local, small and underrepresented companies and the impact that can have on the community and for the common good.