VIEWPOINT: 40 years after Civil Rights, opportunity calls

September 26, 2005

As the Civil Rights Act turns a middleage 40 this year, it's time to celebrate accomplishments and consider the future.

From a business and higher education perspective, we've witnessed a major turnaround. Many companies and institutions seek out minority businesses and students now. Those that are well-prepared can use the opportunity to succeed and make a big difference for our state and nation. Altruism and fairness may lie beneath some of the change, but it also just makes good economic sense. It's in everyone's best interest for all Americans to make sure everyone can contribute in our society.

Why? Someone, frankly, has to do the work and buy the goods, as well as support the social infrastructure. We all know the good jobs in a knowledge-based economy require advanced education. Education leads to an improvement in opportunity for everyone, and that fuels the marketplace. Together, high-tech jobs and buying power spur productivity and a better life for everyone.

Who will be the workers of tomorrow?

If you think the past 40 years have brought a lot of change, look ahead to the next 40. The U.S. Census Bureau tells us that in 40 more years, an amazing 46 percent of us will be "minorities." Already, minorities make up the majority of residents in four states: Texas, California, Hawaii and New Mexico. Hispanics are the largest group in three of those states. Asian-Americans make up the largest group in Hawaii. Closing in on the leaders are five other states: Maryland, Mississippi, Georgia, New York and Arizona, where 40 percent of the residents are from minority groups.

It doesn't take much to figure out that our nation and state will be better off if all those people become well-educated and financially successful, allowing them to contribute to the tax base and help support community initiatives.

We cannot afford to ignore these markets and this brainpower. Predictions are that minorities will represent at least 44 percent of the increase in purchasing power in the next four decades. If we empower them, it could reach 77 percent.

Higher education is one door to empowerment. Business opportunity is another. I'm not talking set-asides or handouts. In this case, information is the key. We need an informed free marketplace-with business leaders understanding that they need to be proactive in helping minority companies compete. The owners of minority companies also have a responsibility to seek out the information and open themselves up to new relationships.

Minority businesses must inform themselves about how to bid and compete. Universities in Indiana are trying to help. The telecommunication and automotive industries serve as excellent models for supplier diversity. A simple search of the Web turns up name brands like Motorola, AT&T, Marriott, UPS and American Express.

Why is UPS committed to supplier diversity? Here's what the company has to say on its Web site: "Simply put, because everybody wins. UPS broadens its access to the best suppliers around ... while quality suppliers get new opportunities to grow their business."

Many companies, such as Marriott, have taken it another step. They require national vendors to work with minorityand women-owned businesses as well.

Intel calls it a core value.

They all understand: Business diversity is in everyone's best interest.

We've made substantial progress in the past 40 years. I'm looking forward to the next 40.

Moore is Purdue University's manager of supplier diversity development and the former business advocacy manager for the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce.
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