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Automakers helping minority, female-owned suppliers break into the biz

Leon Richardson, President and CEO of ChemicoMays, one of GM's diversity suppliers

Auto companies are reducing the total number of their suppliers to maximize cost savings -- and that can make it harder than ever for new part suppliers to break into the business.

So, automakers like Ford Motor Company are doing what they can to make sure female, minority and veteran-owned manufacturers aren't bypassed.

Carla Traci Preston is Ford's Director of Supplier Diversity Development.

She says Ford has its own diversity supplier program -- and in addition, "we ask over 400 of our largest suppliers -- those that we are committed to-- to  have supplier diversity development programs as well."

She says it's also important for make sure potential suppliers know exactly what parts Ford needs, "so the companies can go in (to the parts list) and say, oh, Ford needs component X - we do that!"

General Motors, Chrysler and Ford all host what they call "Matchmaker Summits," to connect the automakers with new suppliers.

Chrysler says its Matchmaker program has generated more than $2 billion in new business opportunities for minority, female, and veteran-owned businesses since 2000.

General Motors has had a diversity supplier program in place the longest - 46 years.  The company began reaching out to minority-owned suppliers in 1968.

GM also has a separate "Diverse Supplier Development Program," which focuses on helping a select group of suppliers improve their financial and operational performance, which in turn helps them compete for new business more effectively.

The company also holds training events for suppliers, such as an "Access to Capital Forum," and "How to do business with GM."

The efforts by the companies have paid off - literally. 

The Detroit Three combined have done about $200 billion in parts and services business with minority, female, and veteran-owned companies since the late 60's.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.