Wisconsin’s flagship conference on diverse business development rose to the challenge posed by the pandemic, taking the 2020 conference virtual and continued providing the high-quality content, networking, and business development opportunities attendees have come to expect in the conference’s 39-year history.

MARKETPLACE: The Governor’s Conference on Diverse Business Development brought together close to 500 attendees from around Wisconsin for informative and timely educational sessions, as well as a virtual exhibit hall and networking. WEDC’s partner Wisconsin Procurement Institute, WPI, hosted The Contracting Academy (TCA) that provided technical training for current and aspiring government prime contractors and subcontractors. In addition, WPI facilitated more than 550 one-on-one meetings between Wisconsin companies with more than 50 buyers from state and local government and the private sector.

“As a virtual event, this year’s MARKETPLACE conference was able to bring a much broader offering of opportunities to Wisconsin’s diverse owned small businesses,” said WEDC Vice President of Business and Community Development Mary Gage. “Not only did the online event allow for convenient participation by minority, women, veteran, small and LGBTQ business owners located across in Wisconsin; it also provided connections with resources and business opportunities from around the country.”

Elmer Moore

The event included remarks by Governor Tony Evers and Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes. Emceed by Scale Up Milwaukee Executive Director Elmer Moore, the conference speaking program covered a variety of topics focusing on small business in today’s environment both related and unrelated to the pandemic.

A panel on expanding Wisconsin’s diverse supply chain featured Daryl Hodnett of Advocate Aurora Health, Tom Lutz of U.S. Bank, Reginald K. Layton of Johnson Controls International, Chris Layden of Manpower North America and was moderated by Heather N. Olson of the North Central Minority Supplier Development Council.

Joaquin Altoro

Wisconsin Department of Administration’s Supplier Diversity Program  Director Tondra Davis discussed the state’s efforts to increase the number of certified businesses and increase the number of contracts awarded to diverse businesses. Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) CEO Joaquin Altoro and Assistant Deputy Director May yer Thao shared how WHEDA is intentionally identifying business opportunities for these diverse businesses.

May yer Thao

Panel discussions featured advice on growing businesses online, using capital strategically, locating financial and technical resources, and diversifying businesses in the era of COVID-19, among other topics.

Lafayette Crump

Although 2020 has been a difficult year, guest-speaker, Milwaukee Commissioner of City Development Lafayette Crump noted that this year might prove to be a turning point for social justice and racial equity. He urged listeners to carry that momentum forward to create a more inclusive Wisconsin: “We want to be a place where young people, including people of color, are excited to grow up and stay.”

“We still have much to do and change to root out institutionalized racism and long-embedded obstacles to success for communities and businesses of color,” noted WEDC Secretary and CEO Missy Hughes. “WEDC is engaged with its partners around the state to identify those obstacles in the economic development system and remove them. MARKETPLACE is about intentionally creating immediate and near-term opportunities for diverse businesses, to bridge this moment until we collectively can find our way to a new paradigm with equity truly achieved.”

Each year’s conference also includes an awards program, with the Community Economic Development Awards for business and community leaders and the MARKETPLACE Governor’s Awards outstanding new and established, large and small diversely owned businesses.

“To meet the challenges ahead of us, we must recognize how important inclusion, equity and diversity are to a strong economy,” Governor Evers said. “These awards showcase the important contributions that minority-owned, women-owned and service-disabled veteran-owned businesses make to our communities every day and how they are an important part of building an economy that works for all of us.”

MARKETPLACE was supported by 14 sponsors, including Keystone Sponsor U.S. Bank and Governor’s Award Sponsor Milwaukee Business Journal.