Finding Diverse Suppliers

You are a construction company bidding on a project that will be funded in part or wholly by taxpayer dollars and you come to that part of the bid package that asks you about the diverse suppliers that you will use for the project.  Your mind goes blank, your stress level rises, you need to find qualified diverse supplier, you WANT to find qualified diverse suppliers, and you don’t know where to look.  Take a deep breath because finding qualified diverse suppliers starts with a few simple, well-placed, keystrokes.  
To start your search, you need a couple of key pieces of information that can probably be found in the request for proposal (RFP) or request for qualifications (RFQ).  When a project requires diverse supplier participation, the project documents state which type of certification is accepted, or ‘counts’ toward the project owner’s diverse supplier target participation.  Find that list of accepted certifications in your project documents.  It may include certification with the state or city the project is located in (M/W/V/DBE), any number of federal certifications (WOSB, 8a, HUBZONE, SDVOB) or it may include non-profit certifying organizations like the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) or the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC).  Understanding which certifications are accepted is the first step to focusing your search. 
The next piece of information you need from the project documents is the list of North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes or United Nations Standard Products and Services Codes (UNSPSC) applicable to the project.  Understanding what services to search for is the second step to focusing your search. 
Each organization that certifies diverse suppliers keeps a list of certified companies which is typically updated routinely.  Start with the organization(s) listed in your project documents and visit their website to find the list of certified companies.  Because most certification agencies require diverse suppliers to specify their services by identifying the related NAICS or UNSPSC codes, you can then search the list of certified companies by their corresponding classification code and you will come up with the list of diverse suppliers that satisfy the contract requirements for the project you are bidding on.  Once you have that narrowly tailored list, you can interview and evaluate the diverse suppliers for inclusion on your project bid. 
What do you do if your search results in no companies certified by the project’s acceptable organizations or if you find diverse suppliers that do not have services that fit within the acceptable industry or service classification codes?  You can use your search results to demonstrate that no diverse suppliers meeting the project criteria were available for your project bid.  The project owner typically wants the successful bidder to meet the diverse supplier goals but if you can demonstrate your effort to find a diverse supplier and show that no such company exists within the requirements set forth by the project owner, your duty to meet the supplier diversity goal is satisfied.  Knowing how to navigate the information on diverse suppliers can take the stress out finding the qualified diverse suppliers for your next bid. 
About the Author: Paula Finch, Counsel at Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale, P.C., is an experienced business attorney who represents closely held businesses and public companies in commercial transactions, acquisitions, negotiations, contracting and supplier diversity business opportunities and certifications.  

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