WHEDA: Exceeds targets for purchases from diverse, disabled veteran and women-owned businesses

MADISON – From computer technology to financial services, the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority exceeded its targets for purchases from certified minority-, disabled veteran- and women-owned businesses during fiscal 2020.

In all, these targeted purchases accounted for some $859,700 or 12.4% of WHEDA’s total $6.9 million in discretionary spending, up from $509,963 or 8.58% during fiscal 2019.

“Fostering a diverse supply chain drives competition and opens the door to innovation among vendors,” said WHEDA CEO Joaquín Altoro. “By being intentional in our supplier relationships and procurement practices, we can level the playing field and bring more businesses to the starting line for consideration. The results include improved sourcing options, quality and service as well as more job opportunities in our underrepresented communities.”

Consistent with its commitment to increase equity, diversity, inclusion and economic opportunity, for fiscal 2020 WHEDA exceeded its 6% goal for discretionary spending with minority and disabled veteran business partners certified by the Wisconsin Department of Administration. Among these certified businesses, WHEDA disbursed 6.5% of its discretionary purchases. Additionally, WHEDA expended 2.9%, of its discretionary purchases with DOA-certified women-owned business partners and another 3% with non-certified minority-, disabled veteran- and women-owned vendors.

Emery Harlan, a partner in MWH Law Group of Milwaukee, has been doing business with WHEDA for nearly 20 years. The law group specializes in bond issuances, including use of conduit financing techniques that allow nonprofits and development partners to raise capital using tax-exempt municipal bonds for affordable housing projects. This specialized field provides a critical layer of low-cost financing for affordable housing projects where rents will not cover costs under traditional financing methods.

“As a result of our work and experience with WHEDA, our firm has definitely been able to increase the opportunities we are able to pursue, not only in Wisconsin but in other parts of the nation,” Harlan said. “You can also draw a direct line from our relationship with WHEDA to our employment base, including our efforts to hire up-and-coming attorneys from under-represented communities.”

Harlan said WHEDA’s approach is instructive, because it involves building capacity among small businesses through partnerships and, at times, breaking larger contracts down into opportunities that small businesses can successfully compete for. “WHEDA has broken down some of the mystery behind the procurement process and shown a willingness to help small businesses navigate the procedural requirements,” Harlan said.

Among WHEDA’s other vendors in fiscal 2020 was Amanda Evans Photography, a certified minority-owned business enterprise in Milwaukee. Evans said her small business focuses on capturing people and the special moments they wish to remember.  

“As a small business with many individual clients, I also appreciate the benefits of working through an established supplier network to connect with organizations such as WHEDA,” Evans said. “Being able to shoot photos that demonstrate progress in housing and economic opportunity is a plus. The state certification also opens up greater potential for future assignments with a number of state agencies, as well.”  

Altoro said the commitment to supply chain diversity represents one way in which WHEDA’s internal efforts to promote equity, diversity and inclusion are being reflected outward in best practices that influence external stakeholders.

WHEDA created a portal enabling interested businesses to register and connect more directly with the authority’s procurement activities. This groundwork resulted in 62 businesses registering and allowed WHEDA to support four businesses in their efforts to gain state minority-owned business enterprise/disabled veteran-owned business certification. WHEDA also is building capacity among underrepresented businesses by hiring subcontractors along with more experienced vendors.