First annual expo brings together minority owned Columbia businesses, contractors

As part of the Strategic Plan economy focus, the City is working on efforts to help advance women and minority owned businesses in the community. The City was honored to support the first Building Inclusive Partnerships Expo. The expo was hosted by City Supplier & Diversity Program and  sponsored by Shelter Insurance, on Wednesday, March 22, 2017.

The event was free to local minority and women owned businesses and any other disadvantaged business enterprise firms. Shelter Insurance provided a table for each business to display information, a branded table runner and business cards. Dinner was provided for all attendees.

Jim Whitt, coordinator of the expo, said the event turned out to be very successful. In its first year, the expo held 24 Columbia businesses and over 70 attendees.

“We had very good turnout of minority and women owned businesses and received the support of many of our local prime contractors. The City and Columbia Public Schools, and the Housing Authority supported our efforts, as well,” Whitt said.

Whitt also works as the director of Supplier Diversity where he strives to develop business programs that encourage the use of minority and women owned suppliers. Additionally, Whitt is a contractor for the City to help achieve goals of the Strategic Plan.

Prime contractors are those who employ or manage one or more subcontractors to carry out specific sections of the contract and are responsible for the completion of the contract.

Holly Burton-Aro, Licensed Engineer, certified Project Management Professional and Principal of HB-A Consulting, LLC in Columbia, attended as a representative of the small minority women-owned business that was founded in 2016.

“The expo provided a great opportunity for me to network with potential clients and also to meet other small businesses in the area. Even though the services HB-A Consulting provides are not construction related, I was able to identify a few potential opportunities and partnering relationships,” Burton-Aro said.

She said she’s looking forward to seeing how the event evolves and grows in the future.

“The general consensus of the attendees was that this provided great networking opportunities. Many thanks to Shelter Insurance for sponsoring the event. We will focus on growing the event next year and getting more prime contractors to attend,” Whitt said.

For more information about the City Supplier Diversity Program, contact James Whitt at