Carmen Rad started her business, CRA Custom Banner, out of her home in 1993. By 2009, her banner printing enterprise had grown enough for her move into a 25,000-square-feet building not far from the University Park campus.
Rad attributes part of her company’s success to the USC local vendor program.
“The program is a true advocate for small business,” Rad said. “I would not have had the opportunity to work with USC had this program not existed.”
The university spent a record $21 million with local businesses in 2011 – an increase of $7 million over the previous year.
“USC is anchored in the communities surrounding our campuses, and it’s important for us to support the small businesses that exist here,” said Rhonda Thornton, director of Supplier Diversity Services for the USC Small Business Diversity Office, who ensures that enterprises owned by minorities, women or veterans get their share of USC’s purchasing pie.
The university has a goal of spending 15 percent of its expenditures with diverse suppliers, and it has been able to reach 10 percent of those purchases over the last several years __– even during the economic downturn, Thornton said.
The businesses generally are located within 26 ZIP codes near the University Park, Health Sciences, Marina del Rey and Alhambra campuses. The enterprises provide USC with products and services as diverse as the supplier base itself, including computers, travel services, banners, event management, office furniture and flowers.
“Our local vendor program creates a [jobs] foundation for our neighbors, internships for our students and a better community for everyone,” Thornton said.
In addition to the economic benefit of direct spending on products and services, the program also offers opportunities for development, such as monthly seminars on business literacy led by financial institutions.
“The seminars focus on financial compliance and economic growth and have proven to be very popular with our vendors,” Thornton said. “We want to be sure that they have all the tools they need to sustain growth and to increase their business with USC, as well as other purchasers.”
The university’s small business office also conducts “How to Do Business With USC” sessions in partnership with the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at USC.
Because awareness of local businesses and their products or services is a key factor in the success of the vendor program, the small business office sponsors a business diversity expo and vendor fair every 18 months on the University Park campus. More than 60 local businesses share their wares with 500 people from various USC business units, departments and schools – the staff and faculty responsible for purchasing items for their areas.
Last year the office partnered with the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau to host a group of tour operators from China. It was another way for Thornton to generate additional business for local vendors.
“It’s important for us to continue to shop locally but to think globally,” she said.