Photo of Norfolk, VA
Norfolk, Virginia, USA

In the city of Norfolk, Virginia, USA, economic inclusion sits at the center of our diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) work.

Yes, we examine city policies to identify inequities, we offer implicit bias training, and we’re working on inclusive recruiting and hiring. But in addition to that, working to create economic opportunity for small, women-owned, and minority-owned businesses is essential to our work in the Office of DEI, Norfolk’s newest city department as of fiscal year 2023.

We started our DEI work in April 2019. We followed the best practice of having a DEI officer report to the city manager, and established an interdepartmental core team that met monthly and developed internal DEI strategies. At the recommendation of other cities that were further along in their DEI journey, we identified four key focus areas: human resources, inclusive economic growth, planning and infrastructure, and community engagement. As we worked to identify the challenges and opportunities, it was clear that inclusive economic growth would be a major component of our work.

In 2020, a year into our DEI efforts, we established an internal economic inclusion working group. During the height of the pandemic, the chief procurement officer, the assistant director of housing and community development, and I met weekly to discuss our plan to recommend city spending goals to city council. We added a city attorney and leadership from economic development and public works to our committee. We used a neighboring city’s disparity study as the basis for the spending goals recommended to city council.

In December 2020, council unanimously approved our economic inclusion plan and procurement policy, which established a 12% spending goal with certified minority-owned businesses and a 13.3% city spending goal with certified women-owned businesses. Establishing the policy was an important step, but it didn’t lead to immediate change. Economic inclusion policies must be supported by standard operating procedures and practices that will ensure the policy is implemented. Working with a consulting firm on a multi-year strategic planning effort, along with joining a cohort of 15 southern cities committed to economic inclusion, has helped us identify practices and opportunities to develop standard operating procedures.

One practice that we applied was contract debundling, in which we review multi-year city contracts before they expire to see if the contract could be deconstructed, allowing for multiple contracts for various businesses. In 2022, our $2.3 million janitorial contract was set to expire. This multi-year agreement presented a great opportunity to implement our economic inclusion policy. In partnership with our purchasing division and the general services department that manages the janitorial contract, we turned the one contract into eight opportunities. Six of the eight new contracts are with African American–owned businesses, several of which had not previously pursued government contracting.

We increased our outreach and engagement and held multiple pre-bid meetings to guarantee we were reaching a diverse cross-section of companies. Staff in the DEI office met with businesses and answered questions regarding the procurement process.

In 2023, eight firms were awarded components of the newly debundled janitorial contract. This led to Norfolk spending the most to date with minority-owned businesses since city council approved the policy in 2020.

While this is a huge accomplishment worth celebrating, it’s just the beginning. There’s more that we need to do: more trainings, coaching, and technical assistance for small businesses; increased business outreach and engagement events; ongoing strategic planning and the continued practice of reviewing soon-to-expire contracts for future debundling opportunities; and making spending with small, women-owned, and minority-owned businesses a part of everything we do in the city of Norfolk.



ALEEA SLAPPY WILSON is the diversity, equity and inclusion officer for Norfolk, Virginia.

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