As the largest private employer in Philadelphia and the second largest in the state, Penn has a significant and diverse economic impact. There are the construction crews who are literally building the University from the ground up, caterers who feed hungry Penn employees at breakfast or lunch meetings, graphic designers who shape the web and printed material from offices and schools, and vendors who supply everything from printer cartridges to pens.
Not to mention the human resource economic impact of staff and faculty who work here and also call Philadelphia home.
When it comes to procurement, Penn has maintained a special focus on local purchasing going back at least two decades. In 1995, Penn introduced the “Buy West Philadelphia Initiative,” and two years later, implemented an economic inclusion plan for the construction of the Biomedical Research Building and Sansom Common, which resulted in a 30 percent rate of minority, women, and local workforce.
Penn has also worked to establish several pipeline initiatives, including the Lucien E. Blackwell Apprenticeship Program, the Diversity Supplier Mentoring Program, and Penn Medicine Pipeline Program.
Penn’s focus on local purchasing remains strong today.
The University’s Economic Inclusion Program upholds the mandate in the Penn Compact 2020 to engage local, minority, and women-owned businesses and residents in Penn’s economic activity, explains Glenn Bryan, assistant vice president of community relations in Penn’s Office of Government and Community Affairs.
The Program is made up of committees that provide guidance and assistance in several areas: human resources, construction, and purchasing. Bryan says a big part of what they do is connecting buyers to suppliers.
“[We try] to figure out ways where we can help position some of these companies. One of the best ways is to work with a majority company but have some real stated goals and objectives between the majority companies and diversity companies to work together,” Bryan says. “The same thing goes for building more first-tier people in purchasing. The more they work with top-tier folks, the more they’re able to compete.”
What’s paramount is to make smart buying decisions for Penn, says Mark Mills, executive director of purchasing in the Business Services Division who leads the purchasing committee for the Economic Inclusion Program. This doesn’t mean paying a premium for goods and services from local or diversity suppliers—but it does mean working harder to invite those vendors into the bidding process.
“The important thing that we try to do our best in is get [local vendors] into the conversation and get them into the bidding opportunity,” Mills says. “And I think that’s been pretty successful here at Penn.”
According to the purchasing office, local and diversity suppliers make up 38 percent of vendors participating in the Penn Marketplace, the University’s internal portal where people can browse and buy from preferred merchants. Mills adds that since 2011, when he started at Penn, local purchasing numbers have increased each fiscal year, even topping $100 million in the last few years.
Penn has contracts in place with some local and diversity vendors, such as Telrose for office supplies—which means that when office managers place orders for new printer cartridges, they’re doing so from a local company. Buyers can also use a tool on the Purchasing website, that searches for local and diversity suppliers.
Mills says he routinely speaks with local suppliers at First Thursday meetings in the community (which are hosted by Bryan), and emphasizes that Penn is expecting high-quality suppliers who can market their businesses to centers, offices, and schools around the University.
Sometimes, he says, suppliers just aren’t ready to scale up to meet Penn’s needs—and that’s when they refer them to groups like the Wharton Small Business Development Center or to one of the 22 other schools that are part of the Philadelphia Area Collegiate Cooperative.
“The biggest challenges to growing local spending is that market matchmaking—what’s available at Penn versus what’s available in the West Philadelphia, Philadelphia market,” Mills says. “In those cases where a company’s not ready for us or we don’t have a bid available or we’re just not a fit, [we can] introduce those companies to other universities.”
Bryan says that Penn works with city agencies, various chambers of commerce, and organizations like the Enterprise Center to identify local and diversity businesses.
“These are things that folks need to know are integral to the life of Penn,” Bryan says.
Mills adds that buying from local and diversity suppliers is one of the ways Penn connects to the community.
“As an institution, we’re a citizen of the City of Philadelphia and we recognize the benefits we get from the city, so we want to make sure that we’re being a good citizen within the city and making use of the city economy,” says Mills.