It has been more than one and a half years since we met with former Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) President Phil Davis and others, including Mike Christensen and the MCTC CFO at that time. The purpose of the meeting was to engage MCTC in an effort to add Cut Fruit Express a Minority (African Descent) owned firm, as a vendor to MCTC’s food service operations. President Davis and his staff decided this was a wonderful opportunity for the college to engage in a worthwhile endeavor that would benefit our community.
You should know that Cut Fruit Express is well qualified, and price competitive, as demonstrated by the fact that his customers include major grocery like Lund’s, Byerly’s, Cub, other major food distributors and Minneapolis Public Schools.
It hires almost 100% of its employees from urban communities, and more than 80% are people of color. Moreover, it started more than 10 years ago in north Minneapolis, and is now actively seeking to relocate back in North Minneapolis. This effort is being supported by the City of Minneapolis, MN Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) and Greater MSP.
To date, after at least two meetings and several e-mails with Gary Westerland, your head of Food Services, we are frustrated and disappointed. The reasons for our frustrations and disappointment are that there have been no results from these discussions. Initially Mr. Westerlund attempted to introduce Cut Fruit to Sodexo, the firm that has the larger food service contract with MCTC. After submitting an application to provide goods to Sodexo, Cut Fruit was essentially told “we have our own diversity program and are not interested in adding other vendors at this time.” Clearly from our conversation and exchanges with Mike Christensen and Mr. Westerlund, MCTC was disappointed in Sodexo’s attitude and response.
It should be added that during the early conversations, Mr. Westerlund also indicated that both the Caribou Coffee and convenience store operations on campus added additional opportunities for Cut Fruit. Again there has been no follow-up or results with these MCTC providers.
On March 23, 2015 I received the attached e-mail from Mr. Westerlund indicating that he had a new vendor that would be interested in setting up a meeting with Cut Fruit. He stated while this is not where we would like to be at this point, it is a good opportunity. I immediately followed up with Mr. Westerlund suggesting times that we would be available to meet. To date there has been no response or follow-up from him.
The only conclusion we can draw from the lack of follow through, is that the college has little interest in offering opportunities for minority owned businesses to provide goods and services to the college. It is no secret that students of color, including a substantial number who are of African Descent, are enrolled in MCTC. It is also well known that the college receives both Federal and State funding for these students. These funds are contributed to by all African American taxpayers in Minnesota, who contribute more than $500M annually in taxes.
It would seem to the undersigned that MCTC, as former President Davis stated, would be anxious to engage with minority and women owned businesses. Yet after all of these months there have been no results and little follow through on the part of the college.
Specifically, the college appears to have accepted Sodexo’s response, without challenge, because their contract does not expire until 2017. While we understand contractual obligations, we also know that the college has considerable leverage with Sodexo when they want to amend or change outcomes that the college deems important to its mission and student body. We ask the following question: “Do you feel that MCTC has an obligation and responsibility to spend some of its tax supported revenue with underutilized minority businesses? If not, why not? If not now, then when?
I will admit that after no response to my email to Mr. Westerlund y on May 11, 2015, I sent the following e-mail. The email stated the facts and asked for an opportunity to move forward in a cooperative manner. We still believe that discussion and negotiation would be of mutual benefit to MCTC and our African American community.
I have always had a positive relationship with Vice President Mike Christensen as we have known and worked together over many years. I followed up with a phone call to Mr. Christenson and again received no response. The failure to respond, to engage with us, and the lack of any results brings us to this open and public letter to you as the leader of MCTC.
The below e-mail was sent to Gary Westerlund on May 11, 2015:
“Gary: we last heard from you on March 23, regarding a meeting with your new vendor. I continue to be disappointed with MCTC’s follow through on this matter that is very important to our community. It has been more than a year since we first met with former President Davis who essentially stated that it was in MCTC’s interest and mission to make an effort like this work. We know well the story how Sodexo dictated to MCTC their lack of interest in a supplier diversity effort. We understand they have a contract through 2017 and we know that you all were disappointed in their response. It seems in this instance the “tail wags the dog.” But we tried to understand. In earlier discussions you mentioned the Caribou outlet in the school and the convenience store as potential places where Cut Fruit could plug in and provide their quality goods to MCTC staff and students. To date nothing has come from that discussion either.
While I will not question the integrity of intent of MCTC to spend some of its federal student loans with Minority and women owned businesses, it is only the results that count. However good MCTC’s intentions are without results there is no impact on the employment of our people by your vendors that are paid with our tax dollars and student spending. What can we depend on from MCTC given the time that has passed since we first brought this opportunity to the college? I find it very difficult to refrain from harsh words or out of anger. I can however speak proudly about my frustration and disappointment to date.
We the NJCT and Cut Fruit our partner are still interested in the equal opportunity to provide goods to all of MCTC’s food service organizations. We prefer to negotiate something with you rather than public confrontation. Confrontation is not our preference but too much is at stake for us to remain passive. How can we move a partnership for our mutual benefit and provide a real opportunity for both a business that hires from our community and one that is trying to relocate to our community. I would appreciate a reasoned response at your earliest convenience.”
With much respect,
Consulting Project Director
North Job Creation Team
It is to that end that we ask the following questions. We would hope that your response would be direct and we do not object to it being public. That is your choice. However, you can be sure any response to the undersigned will be acted on promptly.
Over the past five years how much has MCTC spent with Minority Owned businesses?
Does the college have an active program to reach out to underutilized businesses that have achieved meaningful or substantial results?
Does the college have any interest in engaging with the leadership of the undersigned organizations to correct this injustice, lack of inclusion and diversity in your vendor purchasing programs?
We have offered to avoid public confrontation previously and we continue to offer our efforts to achieve results through discussions involving real opportunity for progress. Can we depend on your office for support?