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CHAMPAIGN — Companies owned by minorities, women, veterans and people with disabilities can learn about business opportunities at the University of Illinois at an event this week.

The second annual Diversity Business Opportunity Fair is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon at the I Hotel and Conference Center, 1900 S. First St., C.

Staff from the UI system and its three universities will have information about their professional services and supply needs, including construction, food services and office and athletic supplies.

Vendors can also learn about programs and resources available to help them, get certified through the state’s Business Enterprise Program, and learn how to register with the Illinois Procurement Gateway and the Higher Education Procurement Bulletin

Last year the inaugural diversity-business fair drew more than 200 businesses, and organizers hope to attract more this week.

“Our goal is to ensure that minorities, small businesses, women, persons with disabilities and veterans are aware of how we do things and are aware of upcoming opportunities so they can participate,” said Sharla Roberts, the UI’s procurement diversity director.

UI trustees and local contractors have challenged the university in recent years to increase business with diverse suppliers and contractors.

The UI spends about $1.5 billion annually on goods and services out of a $6 billion-plus budget.

This year it’s spending about $88 million with diverse businesses on goods and services, up from $70 million in recent years, Roberts said Monday.

The UI accounts for 90 percent of the total spent with minority- and women-owned firms by all Illinois public universities, according to UI figures. Among all state agencies, the UI system ranks third, behind the Illinois Department of Transportation and Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services.

“We know that whatever the goal is, we know there’s room for improvement,” Roberts said.

For state-funded construction projects specifically, trustees have raised the goals for diverse spending from 15 to 20 percent in Urbana, and from 22 to 30 percent at the Chicago campus, Roberts said.

“We’re meeting our goal,” she said.

Roberts said this week’s business fair is just one of many initiatives the UI offers to connect with local suppliers and raise awareness about opportunities at all three campuses, adding that Urbana spends the most.

“We want the community to come learn how to be a part of this spend and grow their business,” she said.

The university also hosts a professional services symposium in Chicago, for diverse firms to meet with representatives of the three campuses for architectural and engineering services, asset management, legal services, auditing, accounting and information technology.

The UI has to bid any job above $100,000 but has discretion on contracts under that amount, she said.

Other activities include a “construction summit” in Chicago, “lunch and learn” seminars and other training for how to do business with the university.

“We help them navigate the process. We understand it can be intimidating,” she said. “We learn all the time that firms just don’t know how to navigate the system.”

The Diverse Business Opportunity Fair starts at noon with opening remarks, followed by a vendor fair from 1 to 4 p.m. and a networking reception at 4 p.m.

For registration or more information, call 217-244-9671, email procurementdiversity@uillinois.edu, or visit: go.uillinois.edu/2019diversebusinessfairuofi

Reporter/Columnist

Julie Wurth is a reporter covering the University of Illinois at The News-Gazette. Her email is jwurth@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@jawurth).