New program helps minorities qualify as city vendors

James McKissic, center, director of Multicultural Affairs for the city of Chattanooga, listens to Mayor Andy Berke's state of the city speech in April.
James McKissic, center, director of Multicultural Affairs for the city of Chattanooga, listens to Mayor Andy Berke's state of the city speech in April.

Three women entrepreneurs were introduced Thursday as the first to complete a new program helping women- and minority-owned businesses gain access to city contracts.

James McKissic, director of the Office of Minority Affairs in Mayor Andy Berke's administration, presented the three women before Berke signed an executive order encouraging women and minority entrepreneurs to do business with city government.

If you go

› What: Diversity certification and city contracting workshop› When: 3-4:30 p.m., Aug. 16› Where: City Hall› Contact: James McKissic,

Commercial cleaning service owner Velma Wilson and Melinda Bone, owner of Chicken-w-Bones and Edible Arrangements, recently have joined the list of suppliers to the city, McKissic said.

The third entrepreneur is Felicia Jackson, whose invention, CPR Wrap, was nurtured to fruition through Co.Lab's business development programs. Co.Lab's website said a personal experience led Jackson to create the CPR Wrap, a plastic guide placed over the mouth and chest that provides simple instructions for the life-saving procedure.

As Berke said at a signing ceremony at City Hall, "Doing business with the city is not for the faint of heart. We are as regulated as any business that there is, and we have to follow all those regulations because nobody wants us to just be giving out contracts to friends and family and others and so, properly, we have a lot of hoops to go through."

The city created its own internal certification for female- and minority-owned businesses, McKissic said. It has fewer steps than some national certifications, to smooth the path for small business owners, and certification lasts five years. Business owners who receive the certificate are added to the city vendor list, which is shared with prime contractors looking for minority vendors.

City Attorney Wade Hinton, kicking off the signing ceremony, echoed the theme of Berke's April state of the city speech, that Chattanooga is a city of creators.

"There are men and women across this city who are creating businesses every day, and those businesses create jobs," Hinton said. "For us as city government, our charge is to create opportunities for those businesses to do business with the city. And that's especially true for minority- and women-owned businesses, who historically have been locked out" of opportunities for city contracts.

photo Mayor Andy Berke

McKissic said he and city purchasing director Bonnie Woodward have been talking up the certification program at Chamber of Commerce events, community meetings and any other venue they can find. They also hold quarterly workshops, with the next one scheduled for August.

"This is our passion," he said. "We're all out there telling businesses, you have the chance to do business with the city."

Berke said the internal certification was among the recommendations of his Minority Business Task Force. The city also has developed a supplier diversity website with information businesses need to know to qualify as vendors. Chattanooga is a Kiva City, a program that leverages local funds to grow small businesses. And there are more minority business names now listed in the city's vendor registry, Berke said.

When he took office, the mayor said, only about 1 percent of city business went to diverse businesses. Now the number ranges from 10 to 14 percent, he said.

"Nobody's proclaiming victory," he added. "That's a huge leap, but we still have far to go. ... We want to build a city of creators where everybody feels that power that comes from creation, whether you're a small business, a big business, no matter what neighborhood you're in."

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at or 423-757-6416.

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