Cleveland Public Library’s mission to be a diverse and inclusive organization extends not only to its staff, patrons, and community members, but also to its suppliers. For example, are the Library’s plumbers, painters, carpenters, electricians, and those who provide procurement services representative of the community the Library serves? To address that question and to enact meaningful change, Cleveland Public Library established a Supplier Diversity Council to identify, engage, and hire minority-owned and otherwise underrepresented businesses.
“When you look at the population of Cleveland, our business partnerships should mirror that population,” says Chief Equity, Education & Engagement Officer Dr. Sadie Winlock, who has been instrumental in evaluating the Library’s diversity and inclusion landscape. “The Supplier Diversity Council is part of the bigger picture surrounding the Library’s desire to be inclusive internally and externally across all layers.”
The Supplier Diversity Council was formed in 2019 to ensure that diversity and inclusion are promoted and encouraged at all levels, but particularly within the Library’s Facility Master Plan. Over the course of the next decade, this capital development project will reimagine every branch library throughout the system and will impact the community for decades to come.
The Supplier Diversity Council includes both internal and external stakeholders who meet regularly to identify local underrepresented vendors, to engage diverse suppliers, and, in some cases, encourage partnerships between major organizations and minority-owned companies. Additionally, the Library has set informal goals to ensure diversity in all layers of procurement. Any procurement or supplier contract of $10,000 or less, for example, will automatically go to a minority-owned company. Larger contracts will undergo a bidding process that includes at least one bid from a minority-owned business.
“This is a journey we’ve been on for a while—examining how Cleveland Public Library as an organization can relate to its community better, not only through our services and collections, but also through our commitment to ensure our staff looks like the community we serve,” says Executive Director and CEO Felton Thomas, Jr.
Supporting the Local Economy
The work of inclusion starts with the institutional owner—in this case, the Library—making a commitment and a pledge to help support the local economy.
Christopher B. Nance, Vice President, Construction & Inclusion Talent Initiatives for the Greater Cleveland Partnership (GCP), serves on the Supplier Diversity Council. GCP is the largest chamber of commerce in the United States and has been instrumental in helping the Library identify and work with minority-owned businesses. Some of the resources GCP has made available to the council include a best practices library; an organizational assessment framework; and the Inclusion Marketplace, a database of local businesses that helps minority suppliers to connect with majority buyers.
“This work really matters,” Nance says of the Supplier Diversity Council’s efforts. “One statistic puts it into perspective: We have about 24,000 African American-owned businesses in the Cleveland metro statistical area, and 90 percent are sole proprietors. If those 24,000 businesses added one employee each, we could cut unemployment in the region in half—not just Black, Latino, or female unemployment, but all unemployment in half. It’s not a stretch to connect Cleveland Public Library’s supplier diversity efforts to helping Cleveland’s greater economy grow.”
Glen Shumate, Executive Vice President of Construction Employers Association (CEA), the largest contractor association in Northeast Ohio, also serves on the Supplier Diversity Council. Shumate commends the Library’s progressive approach to diversity and inclusion.
“The work of inclusion starts with the institutional owner—in this case, the Library—making a commitment and a pledge to help support the local economy,” Shumate says. “The outreach and creation of processes, systems, and procedures like this is not always easy, but the Library has garnered a ‘go forth and go to it’ attitude. I applaud the Library for that.”
“We’re in a very diverse community here in Northeast Ohio and in Cleveland in particular,” adds Cleveland Public Library Chief Operations Officer John Lang, who explains that the Library benchmarked with public entities such as the City of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County Community College, and Cuyahoga County to develop goals in regard to minority-owned businesses. “It’s important that as we serve our community, we’re providing equity and access, and that economic inclusion is reflective of the population that we’re serving.”
Lang and Dr. Winlock serve on the Supplier Diversity Council along with Nance, Shumate, and the following external members: Gail Dolman-Smith, President and CEO, Paragon TEC; Roger Riachi, Owner, RFC Contracting; Gregory G. Guice, Esq., Partner, Reminger Co. LPA; and Jeff Epstein, Executive Director, MidTown Cleveland. Additional internal members within Cleveland Public Library include Carrie Krenicky, Chief Financial Officer; Carol Hubler, Procurement & Contract Coordinator; Bryan Szalewski, Chief Legal Officer; and Twyla Turner, Director of Inclusion and Leadership Development.
“This is an opportunity for Cleveland Public Library to be a trendsetter among public libraries and to make sure we’re impacting the community,” says Turner, who works with Dr. Winlock to help shape the Library’s diversity and inclusion efforts. “We’re making an honest, intentional effort to do more business with the people in our community and provide equitable opportunities. If we say we’re The People’s University, then we need to provide the opportunities for people to give back to the communities where Clevelanders live and work and thrive.”
A Groundbreaking Partnership
The Supplier Diversity Council helps ensure that the process of reimagining branch libraries throughout the system is diverse and inclusive. In the design phase, these efforts can be seen in the work of architects such as Moody Nolan, the nation’s largest African American architecture firm, or Vocon, a woman-owned firm. This philosophy also extends to construction, including contracts, workforce participation, and construction managers. And for the Library’s next group of branches set to undergo renovations—Brooklyn, Eastman, Lorain, Rockport, and Sterling—these efforts have culminated in the selection of two women-owned firms that partnered as the project’s construction managers at risk: Regency Construction Services and The AKA Team.
“This is a big deal,” Nance said of the Regency and AKA partnership. “Both firms are experienced and have a track record of success, which are the first questions people always ask about construction managers. Not only do we have two companies that check those boxes, but they are successful businesses and businesspeople.”
Founded in 1994 by Tari Rivera, Regency Construction Services is headquartered in Brook Park and serves the health care, education, nonprofit, municipal, and library markets. Regency is well-known and respected in the Greater Cleveland area, and Rivera stresses a focus on diversity and inclusion within all levels of the firm.
“When I entered the business, there were very few female role models or mentors,” Rivera says. “Fast forward to today, Regency has grown to 50 individuals in professional services, and 30 percent are minorities or female. Nationally, less than 10 percent of tradespeople are women. What was important to me in growing my firm was to be able to continue to recruit women and minorities and encourage them to choose our industry as a career path.”
Rivera applauds the Library for recognizing the importance of bringing underrepresented companies and individuals into this work. “Having a Supplier Diversity Council is unique,” she says. “The passion that surrounds it helps everyone get excited and understand how important it is to have diversity included in the Library’s projects.”
As the CEO/President of The AKA Team, a Cleveland-based diversified construction company, Ariane Kirkpatrick considers AKA a legacy company of her family. In fact, “AKA” is an acronym for her sons’ first names (Ali and Kris) as well as hers. Teaming up with Regency for this project made sense, especially since Kirkpatrick and Rivera have a history of working together.
“It’s exciting to be working with Tari Rivera. We share a lot of the same values and principles,” Kirkpatrick says. “We’re excited that we’re both women-owned businesses, but we worked hard to get to where we are, and our capacity is big. Mostly, I’m passionate about working with the community and getting them engaged, especially for a project that’s for them.”
As part of their work with Cleveland Public Library, Regency and AKA are invested in engaging the local communities that will use the branch libraries. According to Rivera, this work will be twofold. First, Regency and AKA will engage a diverse range of subcontractors and workers to make sure they’re aware of the project and will have ample opportunity to bid on the work. Second, AKA and Regency will work directly with the community, especially kids and teens.
That includes partnering with local schools near the branches to provide educational and professional development for youth. At Lorain Branch, for example, storytime programming surrounding the picture book The Construction Alphabet Bookis in the works, along with crafts inspired by Awesome Engineering Activities for Kids. For middle schoolers, AKA will implement its Building Bridges program, a team-building exercise that bolsters communication skills, problem solving, and creative thinking. Finally, the Regency Construction Academy aims to pique high schoolers’ interest in STEM and construction trade career fields and to encourage students to pursue opportunities in architecture, engineering, and construction.
“I think it’s historical what we’ve done to have two women on a major project like this,” Dr. Winlock says. “Both Regency and AKA have very good reputations in the Cleveland community. It’s raised the bar for other organizations to duplicate or mirror what we’ve done.”
“This partnership allows us to show the type of work these two organizations can do,” adds Turner. “Not only do we have the opportunity to work with AKA and Regency, but it demonstrates the importance of working with underrepresented partners—and the Library’s commitment to doing so.”
From helping the local economy to encouraging young people to consider new career paths to ensuring patrons can see themselves reflected in the work on their local library branches, Cleveland Public Library’s approach to diversity and inclusion—including the Supplier Diversity Council—is influencing community’s social and economic landscape, brick by brick.
To learn more about the Library’s ongoing capital development projects, including updates surrounding branches undergoing or about to undergo construction, visit Cleveland Public Library’s CoUrbanize page.