Stellantis, National Business League partner on Black supplier development portal

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

The maker of Jeep and Ram vehicles is partnering with the National Business League to create a one-stop solution for Black suppliers across industries to obtain training as well as access to capital and contracts with Fortune 500 companies and the federal government.

The National Black Supplier Development Program will seek to support the development of more than 2.9 million Black businesses around the country and internationally to ready them to conduct business with the public and private sectors. Black businesses will have access to a portal that will provide the resources for talent acquisition, supply-chain sourcing, executive mentorship, bid opportunities, funding access and more.

Stellantis NV is partnering with the National Business League on a portal seeking to develop Black businesses.

"There is a huge demographic that’s out there that needs to be developed with resources and provided education and training to qualify them for future opportunities in the marketplace," said Kenneth Harris, CEO of the league founded by Booker T. Washington to promote the interests of African American businesses.

"We’re being intentional about addressing the Black equity issues that exist through the community, but, more importantly, we are tapping into an untapped marketplace that will not only drive commerce-driven activity but to make businesses that are competitive in the future."

Kenneth Harris is CEO of the National Business League.

The automaker, Stellantis NV, will anchor the development of the virtual training and development portal. A formal application will go later this year for a free pilot of the program, and approximately 10 Black businesses will participate. It will be open to home-based, one-employee "solopreneurs" and larger businesses. The pilot will be designed around each participant's needs, providing virtual training, manufacturing facility reviews, efficiency assessments and more during the first half of 2022.

"Black businesses have a lot to add to our future," said Marvin Washington, Stellantis' director of electrical and electronic purchasing in North America and head of the Stellantis African Ancestry Network. "We have Black individuals who are obviously purchasers of our vehicles, and we have the confidence that Black businesses will exceed our expectations as long as they are given the opportunity and access. The program will provide it, whereas in the past, whether it was conscious or unconscious, some Black businesses have been left out."

Following the pilot, the portal will open to members of the National Business League to apply. Stellantis' suppliers and other automakers over time also will be added along with the federal government and other public and private companies throughout various industries and sectors domestic and abroad.

Development of the program comes as the auto industry and other corporations have come under the scrutiny of Black media executives, including Byron Allen, owner of The Weather Channel and other outlets. After prominent newspaper ads published earlier this year claimed General Motors Co. CEO Mary Barra refused to meet with the Black executives, GM in April said it was doubling its commitment for spending with Black-owned media to 4% by 2022 with a goal of reaching 8% by 2025. It also held a diverse-owned media summit in May.

The National Business League and Stellantis and its predecessor, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, have worked on supplier diversity in the past. Harris spoke last year at the company's 21st annual MatchMaker event focused on cultivating relationships between minority- and women-owned businesses and the automaker and its suppliers.

Following a national reckoning last year on race relations and a report from the University of California at Santa Cruz that 41% of Black businesses were closing permanently compared to 17% of white-owned businesses amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the organizations discussed what more they could do to support Black businesses specifically.

Of the 2.9 million Black-owned businesses, 95% are small enterprises, and fewer than 3% of them are minority- or agency-certified that can help them obtain contract work, according to the National Business League.

"Stellantis stepped up, not to deal with an immediate need, but the future," Harris said. "Most (Black businesses) do not have the scope or capacity or scale to meet the demand of the future for contract and procurement opportunities for Fortune 500 companies, the federal government and the public and private sectors."

With the National Black Supplier Development Program, more will, the founding organizations said.

"Stellantis believes from the top of the house that we have a lot of untapped potential in the Black community," Washington said. "We think that we can grow as a company and we can help others grow by utilizing those ideas and growing those businesses and adding diversity to our supply base."

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble