Marketplace Conference Connects Diverse Group of Buyers and Suppliers

Marketplace ConferenceMarketplace, the Governor’s Conference on Minority Business Development, once again had a record-breaking year in 2014. The conference, held for the 33rd time in October, attracted more than 650 registrants—the highest number ever.

The event, which is planned by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) in partnership with minority chambers of commerce and other organizations that support minority business development, has evolved over the years, says WEDC Minority Business Development Manager Seyoum Mengesha. When Marketplace began, it had a relatively narrow goal of connecting contract officers for the State of Wisconsin with minority-owned businesses that could provide the state government with products and services. Since then, it has expanded to include buyers from local governments, the federal government and the private sector. This year’s conference brought together 66 exhibitors and 43 buying organizations.

“The value of Marketplace really lies in the opportunities it provides for person-to-person interaction,” says Mengesha. “Minority business owners can meet potential buyers they might not have a chance to meet otherwise, or have even considered. For the buyers, new options for suppliers leads to increased competition, and therefore competitive prices and better quality. Connections made at Marketplace often lead to long-running business relationships.”

More than 300 scheduled one-on-one meetings took place at this year’s Marketplace conference, and this figure does not capture the innumerable interactions that took place informally on the trade show floor as businesses and buyers networked and visited one another’s booths.

The event’s impact goes beyond connections made at the event itself, says Lee Swindall, WEDC vice president of business and industry development. As the state’s minority chambers of commerce have increasingly collaborated to take on more responsibility in planning Marketplace, “This event has helped to galvanize and transform the minority business community,” says Swindall. “Other states may organize similar events, but I’m not aware of another one that rivals the scale, scope and breadth of ours.”

DSC_4042Marketplace also includes workshops on business topics such as getting certified by the state as a minority-owned business and bidding for government contracts. This year for the first time, a half-day workshop was offered on startups and entrepreneurship. For the last two years, WEDC and the Wisconsin Procurement Institute have offered advance training sessions around the state to prepare participants to make the most of the Marketplace conference; these sessions have received enthusiastic feedback from attendees.

The event is also an occasion for recognizing the successes of the state’s minority-, women- and veteran-owned businesses. Eight companies received top honors at this year’s event, including Outstanding Business Awards for overall excellence and Rising Star Awards for businesses that have been operating less than five years that have demonstrated strong growth potential. A list of award winners follows.

  • FUSION INTEGRATED SOLUTIONS of Milwaukee, a boutique engineering and information technology consulting and professional services firm, won the Outstanding Large Business Award for minority-owned businesses. The runners-up were Able Access Transportation LLC of Milwaukee and Insulation Technologies Inc. of Milwaukee.
  • BOWMAN PERFORMANCE CONSULTING LLC of Shawano, a consulting and scientific research and evaluation company, and THE QUEST COMPANY of Waukesha, an industrial supply wholesale company, were co-winners of the Outstanding Small Business Award for minority-owned businesses. P3 Development Group LLC of Milwaukee was the runner-up.
  • J&L STEEL AND ELECTRICAL SERVICES of Hudson, which provides commercial and industrial steel construction services, won the Outstanding Large Business Award for women-owned businesses. The runners-up were Rams Contracting Ltd of Lannon and The Geo Group Corp. of Madison.
  • ENERGY TECH SOLUTIONS LLC OF MADISON, which designs, builds and sells LED lighting lamps and fixtures for commercial and industrial customers, won the Outstanding Small Business Award for women-owned businesses. The runners-up were Rose Publications of Clintonville and Clean Rite Supply Inc. of Brookfield.
  • ADVANCE LAWN SERVICE COMPANY LLC of Hartford, a full-service lawn care and grounds maintenance company, won the Outstanding Small Business Award for a company owned by a service-disabled veteran.
  • USA MOBILE DRUG TESTING OF SOUTH MILWAUKEE, which offers around-the-clock mobile drug testing for businesses, won the Rising Star Award for women-owned businesses. The runner-up was Class A Cleaning of Madison.
  • SCOPEBRIDGE LLC of Milwaukee, which uses innovative techniques to improve client efficiencies throughout the full lifecycle of their construction project, won the Rising Star Award for a business owned by a service-disabled veteran. Runners-up were Middleton Construction Consulting LLC of Milwaukee and US Vet LLC of Sun Prairie.

(January 2015)