When you hear matchmaking, your first thought might be the beginning stage of a romantic relationship. In today’s world, “matchmaking” has also helped cultivate business relationships.
In September 2020, Metro Louisville leaders created the Equity in Contracting and Procurement Task Force. Its goal was to encourage Louisville’s largest private and public infrastructure investors to increase opportunities for Black-owned and other diverse-owned businesses.
To help foster opportunities, events were designed to introduce companies to one another where they could meet and discover potential opportunities to work together. In October, the second Annual Match Maker was held at Louisville Central Community Center in the Russell neighborhood of West Louisville. Louisville Water joined MSD, LG&E, TARC, Louisville Regional Airport Authority, among others for the networking program.
“One of the great things about this year’s event was that it included several prime construction contractor firms. That allowed many of the minority and women-owned business enterprises (MWBEs) who want to work as subcontractors on Louisville Water projects to meet the decision makers of those contracting groups, as well as Louisville Water,” explained Carol Lyons, Louisville Water’s procurement manager.
Lyons serves on a subcommittee of the mayor’s task force. Additionally, Louisville Water’s President & CEO Spencer Bruce, Vice President of Finance and Treasurer Lynn Pearson, and Vice President of Compliance and General Counsel Michael Tigue are involved with the task force’s efforts to ensure more opportunities for MWBEs.
Phil Collins, a construction inspector at Shrewsberry, found himself on the other side of the table from Louisville Water, literally. Collins spent 22 years with the company before retiring in 2004. During his time, he helped lead the company’s minority business development efforts.
“I used to sit on the vendor side networking with minorities to provide them opportunities to do business with Louisville Water. Now I’m looking for opportunities to grow my LLC. It’s tough.” Collins said, “Companies like Louisville Water need to do more to teach and mentor small minority companies to help them understand how they do business and how you follow (their) rules and regulations to complete work or projects.”
That’s exactly what Lyons and her team have worked to do and continue to do with Louisville Water’s Small Business Equity (SBE) program.
“Businesses that have become SBE participants, we have been able to provide one-on-one meetings with department leaders to discuss future opportunities and incentives to work with us,” Lyons said. “Events like Match Maker and the Joint Utility Reception make it possible for business owners to meet, connect, and pitch their services with the right people that they otherwise might not know how to reach,” Lyons said.
Collins said meeting is the easy part. Taking it to the next level is the key to success.
“Meeting new business contacts, starting new business relationships, and hopefully signing a contract to make money with one or more of the companies present at the Match maker event!” is what Collins hopes to achieve for Shrewsberry.
Upon appointing Deputy Chief of Staff Keisha Dorsey as the task force’s new Executive Director, Mayor Greenberg said his administration is committed to growing the number of Black-owned businesses in the city. Currently, less than 3% of local businesses are Black-owned in Louisville.
Looking at 2022, Louisville Water spent a little over $16 million with MWBEs on construction and professional services.
“We’re ensuring that our work is distributed fairly and equitably. I’m proud of the improvements we’ve made in the bidding process, but I know we still have work to do and Louisville Water is committed to doing the work,” Spencer Bruce said.