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Economic Growth For All
Promoting Equity & Inclusion in Mobile, Alabama
Background

Mobile, Alabama is a thriving port city on the Gulf Coast. The City is growing, but retains its small-community feel and neighborhood sensibilities. In recent years, Mobile has put particular focus on incorporating equity and inclusion in its economic growth, with the formation of the Office of Supplier Diversity in 2015. Mayoral leadership and stakeholders like the SBA, Chamber of Commerce and others have committed to making Mobile the most small business-friendly city in the country in a way that centers the entrepreneurial community and is more equitable towards historically marginalized groups like women and minorities.

The Office of Supplier Diversity is spearheaded by Archnique Kidd, an experienced public sector innovator and leader in supplier diversity with a clear vision for Mobile and strong roots in the community. She developed a unique and creative set of requirements to improve the city contracting experience for women and minority-owned small businesses.

Challenge

A central roadblock to increasing equity and inclusion is providing more accessible resources to those entrepreneurs that have been previously excluded from face-to-face networking and other opportunities. In addition, the Office of Supplier Diversity staff’s time was often spent repetitively, walking vendors through applications and explaining common terms, which left them with less time for outreach and relationship-building.

Ms. Kidd and the OSD required an online platform where vendors could access information and receive assistance as they prepared to participate in city contracts. The platform would provide digital onboarding and guide vendors through a curated set of steps. In addition, staff of the OSD would be able to track progress, provide timely support, and collect crucial data regarding outcomes. Such a space would need to be streamlined and efficient while still deeply embedded in Mobile’s character and community. Ms. Kidd understands the importance of relationships to an entrepreneurial environment’s success. “Knowing your vendors is huge,” she says. The technological solution would need to support and supplement face-to-face networking.

Solution

Mobile partnered with Qwally to launch workwith.cityofmobile.org, which functions as the digital entry point for small businesses looking to develop a relationship with the City. The inclusive design was led by Qwally with collaboration from Mobile’s I-Team. Pre-launch development included user research, feedback from small business owners and prospective Disadvantaged Business Enterprises. Key features include:

  • Plain-language content, a flexible intake process and custom guide to common processes like business certification, permitting, lending and more.
  • A log interaction feature that enables OSD to respond to inquiries within one business day.
  • Relationship tracking that includes messaging, timelines and a record of interactions.
  • Seamless integration with OSD’s day-to-day operations, which supplements rather than detracts from in-person support.
“Qwally’s solution took the complexities out of the [city contracting] process,” Ms. Kidd says. “It takes the small business owner from start to finish, and directs them exactly where they need to be.”

Impact

The impact of Qwally’s solution was immediate and significant. Since the launch in 2019, 350 new vendors have created profiles on workwith.cityofmobile.org. City contracts awarded to minority-owned firms increased from 7% to 12% in just one year.

Ms. Kidd and the OSD staff credit Qwally’s solution with freeing up large amounts of their time, and allowing them to develop new outreach initiatives aimed at attracting women and minority-owned firms to procurement. “Procurement should look like the citizens of the city we serve,” says Ms. Kidd.

The solution not only improves relationships between the City and its small business community, it also contributes to a wider sense of transparency and accountability in Mobile’s government, which promotes trust and confidence in all city services. Vastly improved turnaround times make City government more efficient and citizens more engaged, especially among historically marginalized communities.

The Office of Supplier Diversity has also seen increased inclusion reflected in the greater variety of business types interacting with the City. Newly-founded home health facilities, assisted living facilities, daycares, retail stores and manufacturing have all increased since Workwith’s launch, and many of these businesses are predominantly women and minority-owned.

Future

Qwally’s solution is aligned with Mobile’s vision, but also includes the flexibility to accommodate new innovations and improvements over time. Weekly meetings between Ms. Kidd, OSD and the Qwally team have produced refinements based on Mobile’s unique needs. The City is also currently partnering with Qwally to implement the following new features:

  • An inclusive permitting portal and secure document upload tool for small businesses.
  • An event management and attendance tracking tool to assist contractors completing coursework as part of their microloan program.
The portal’s success has shown other City agencies the value of a centralized small business site. Over the next year, Qwally’s new content will further improve the user experience for other processes such as business licensing, which will result in increased accessibility, equity and inclusion for small businesses and citizens in Mobile.

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