350 attend Chamber's conference on diversity in contracting

Achieving more diversity by contracting with more businesses owned by minorities, women and veterans is something large organizations like Hormel Foods and Mayo Clinic are working towards.

But the job is far from done.

More than 350 people attended a Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce day-long conference Tuesday to learn more about connecting diverse-owned small businesses with big companies.

Beside giving local businesses a tool to boost their marketability, this initiative helps Rochester meet the diversity requirements spelled out in the Destination Medical Center legislation.

Tuesday's event featured speakers from diversity groups, DMC, Mayo Clinic and other companies. It also had a number of informational booths for area companies to connect with with diverse suppliers as well as ones on different certifications that can help diversity-owned businesses.


Keynote speaker Hormel Foods CEO Jeff Ettinger told the crowd that the Austin-based Fortune 500 company sees the value in diversity in employees, management and suppliers.

"We've made some progress, but we're not totally where we'd like to be," he said.

Supplier diversity provides "access to new markets, drives innovation, builds customer relationship and supports our communities," he said.

"Diversity provides opportunities," said Tyler L. Hulsebus, Hormel's director of purchasing.

Minority-owned business enterprises are among the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. economy. They generate more than $500 billion in annual revenue and employ nearly 4 million, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Hulsebus explained purchasing has become more strategic, as it's no longer based solely on price. That means looking for best value and sustainability.

To connect with diversity-owned suppliers, Hormel has an online portal where businesses can register. Hulsebus added the portal gives businesses a chance to sell themselves.

"But once they register, they need to be patient," he cautioned, because some purchase contracts happen only every few years,


Hormel bought about $1.4 billion in ingredients, packaging, indirect supplies and services from small and diverse suppliers in 2014.

However, Hulsebus told the crowd that when you subtract small businesses out of that number, the percentage of truly diverse suppliers is less than five percent.

Mayo Clinic, which is also very interested in supplier diversity, seems to be at a comparable starting point.

In 2011, Mayo Clinic said about 3 percent of its total expenditure of $1.8 billion went to diverse suppliers.

Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce President Rob Miller acknowledged after Ettinger's talk that this is a process that's far from over.

"This effort started a few years ago. There's have been some starts and stops since then," he said. "But now we are committed to this. This is not a one and done event. This is just a first step."

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