Some time ago Darrell Brown, the chairman of the Aboriginal Chamber of Commerce, was asked to participate in a focus group to modernize the federal government's Indigenous procurement strategy.
Not long after he met with a couple of provincial cabinet ministers who asked him if he wanted to provide input to the province, which was looking to revamp its own Indigenous procurement strategy.
"Of course we wanted to do that, and we started to think it was about time to do a hard core business-to-business procurement event," Brown said
That is how the Procurement Opportunities for Indigenous Business event came to be.
The sold-out event, being held this afternoon in the downtown offices of Stantec, will feature close to 40 procurement officials from various federal, provincial and municipal departments taking 15-minute "speed-dating" meetings with about 40 Indigenous businesses.
The networking exercise — which may be the first of a regularly occurring event — is an attempt to demystify the government procurement process, as one city official said, and to help get the foot in the door for some Indigenous businesses.
Brown, whose own company, Kisik Commercial Furniture, has been successfully selling to the federal government for 15 years through its Procurement Strategy for Aboriginal Business, said the Indigenous share of federal government procurement is less than half of one per cent. But he said there are increasing numbers of Indigenous businesses out there, they are getting more work and there is no reason to think that the share of procurement couldn't become much bigger.
"We need to be more part of the economy," he said. "We just need a door to open so we can say, 'Here is our goods and services and let us prove ourselves.'
"The whole point of the event is to expose Indigenous businesses to the marketplace through the private and public corporate procurement officers."
The Indigenous businesses attending cover the spectrum from consultants to construction companies, IT companies, a property-restoration firm, training companies and a fire-protection firm. All of them are either Indigenous-owned or have a majority Indigenous workforce.
Catherine Green, the procurement co-ordinator for the City of Winnipeg, monitors hundreds of millions of dollars of procurement that the city is engaged in every year. Her department will have five people on hand.
"I'm hoping we are going to be able to provide more exposure to the city’s procurement process and potentially lessen any preconceptions or intimidation around the government procurement process," she said.
While the city does not have a specific policy in place regarding Indigenous procurement, Green said the city has used Indigenous-owned suppliers in the past and is keen to work with the business community at large.
"Our hope is it to help participants determine if or where a potential opportunity may exist for the business with the city," she said. "We want to listen and learn and determine if there are things to do to increase their comfort level."
Susan Swan, who helped organize the event — which received financial support from Western Economic Diversification Canada — said the use of the Stantec offices across Portage Avenue from Bell MTS Place was a bonus.
"They have skin in the game," she said.
Stantec's offices are not the traditional venue for such public events, and the fact that it is opening its doors for this event is not insignificant.
Eric Wiens, vice-president and head of Stantec's Manitoba operations, said, "We do lots of work in Indigenous communities for organizations, and as such, we really want to help see them succeed. We have some influence in the community as business leaders and we want to make sure we are using that for the good of society."
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.
Updated on Thursday, April 11, 2019 at 12:05 AM CDT: Fixes typo in headline