Detroit — Stellantis NV and the National Business League on Wednesday kicked off what they’re billing as the country’s first-ever development program for Black-owned suppliers.
Thirteen businesses were selected for the pilot phase of the National Black Supplier Development program, which will run through the first quarter of 2022. It’s envisioned as the first phase of a larger program to develop Black-owned suppliers for contracting and procurement opportunities across numerous industries in the public and private sectors.
The maker of Jeep and Ram vehicles in June announced its partnership with the National Business League, an organization founded in 1900 by Booker T. Washington to promote the interests of Black businesses.
“The Stellantis-National Business League Black Supplier Development Program is an idea whose time has come,” Mark Stewart, chief operating officer for Stellantis-North America, said Wednesday. “It’s an idea that addresses the need to take direct, decisive and intentional actions to bring economic opportunities to our community here, to those that have been denied equal access to the marketplace for far, far too long.”
Roughly 95% of Black-owned businesses are home-based, one-employee enterprises or micro-businesses, according to the National Business League. These smaller ventures often do not have the capacity or scale to fulfill contracting and procurement opportunities with large companies or the federal government, program organizers said.
“Black businesses have always wanted to be a part of the economic mainstream of society, even during and immediately after slavery ended,” said Kenneth Harris, president and CEO of the NBL. Still, “After 400 years of anti-Black sentiment and racial oppression and more than 50 years after the Civil Rights Movement, Black businesses are at the bottom of the racial and economic hierarchy.”
“If we can help develop the 95% of 2.9 million Black businesses across the country, those that are solo entrepreneurs, those that are one-to-three-employee and home-based businesses,” said Harris, “and help them build capacity, scope and scale, we can change the systematic economic issues plaguing the Black community nationwide.”
Program organizers also cast the issue as an essential one for businesses to address, given changing demographics that will see the U.S. become even more racially diverse in the coming years.
Stellantis will anchor the development of a virtual training and development portal that it eventually will open to its supplier base, other manufacturers, the federal government, and other public and private entities across industries. Resources attached to the program will provide access to capital, mentorship, supplier training, matchmaking opportunities and more.
Lottie Holland, head of diversity, inclusion and engagement for Stellantis North-America, described the development of the program as a strategic decision that ties in with numerous other diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives the automaker has undertaken over the last 18 months, including the reinstatement of a diversity and inclusion council, mandatory unconscious bias training, leadership assessments intended to promote inclusive behaviors, additional support for business resource groups, and the establishment of diversity targets for leadership positions within the company, among others.
The businesses selected for the pilot program are:
- Ace Petroleum, a Detroit-based national gasoline provider
- Assured Quality Systems, a manufacturing support services business based in Dallas
- Coltrane Logistics & Trucking, a Wixom-based logistics and trucking provider
- Devon Industrial Group, a Detroit-based construction management firm
- Dunamis Clean Energy Partners, LL, a clean energy lighting and electric-vehicle charger manufacturer in Detroit
- GS3 Global, a CNC metal bending and assembling company based in Livonia
- ISIAH International and One World Pharma, a hemp and cannabis company led by Detroit Pistons legend Isiah Thomas and based in Chicago
- Multi-training Systems, a diversity, equity and inclusion strategies consulting firm based in Southfield
- Russell Westbrook Enterprises, a Los Angeles-based digital marketing firm headed up by NBA player Russell Westbrook
- Ryan Industries, Inc., a Wixom-based packing and crating services company
- Simontic Composite Inc., a Greensboro, North Carolina-based composite manufacturing company
- TEN35, a Chicago-based marketing and advertising firm
- TKT & Associates, Inc., a Louisville, Kentucky-based staffing/managed services provider
Brenda Ryan, president and founder of Ryan Industries, said she hopes participating in the program will help her grow her business, which has been a supplier to Stellantis and its predecessors for more than 20 years.
“I want to diversify my customer base, because I feel an obligation to my employees to ensure that we keep business coming in so I can keep them employed,” she said. “I know I can grow the business and this is one avenue by which I can do it.”
Natalie King, CEO and founder of Dunamis Clean Energy Partners LLC, said that as a Black woman entrepreneur working in industries often dominated by white men, “you have to take some extra steps to be able to validate and prove yourself, that you’re able to deliver a high-quality product or service in the same way or better than your competitor.”
Dunamis is a Tier One supplier to the utility industry and a Tier Two automotive supplier that is preparing to launch electric-vehicle charging station manufacturing in Detroit, which it says would make it the first Black woman-owned business of its kind in the country.
“Now is the time, with respect to the electric vehicle infrastructure,” King said, “to develop these relationships with companies like Stellantis, with companies like General Motors and Ford that are moving toward electric mobility.”