Learn How WCS is Buying Local in the Bronx

Supporting Women-Owned and Minority-Owned Businesses

The following is a Q&A with Allan Howell, Director of our Purchasing Department, based at the Bronx Zoo. Allan is working closely with several colleagues in the Bronx to competitively purchase services and products from our neighborhood in the Bronx and across the city. Working with the Bronx Exchange, Allan is shepherding these efforts called internally as "Buy Bronx."

In 2019, John Calvelli (EVP of WCS Public Affairs) brokered the initial discussion with the Bronx Exchange, a 501(c)3 organization, in the Bronx for business development and awareness. The discussion focused on procuring from Bronx-based suppliers. In 2021, John assumed Co-Chairmanship of the Bronx Anchor Council. The council focuses on how Bronx anchor institutions, Minority/Women-owned Business Enterprises (MWBEs) and local cooperatives can be leaders in the national effort to build equitable, sustainable, and democratic local economies. Our leadership role has accelerated our interests in procuring competitive products and services from the Bronx with a focus on women-owned and minority-owned businesses.

With your Buy Bronx program, WCS is sourcing more locally.What are some of the challenges in getting the needed products and services locally? Has it been a smooth process?

The Bronx is in a unique position within the 5 boroughs as it has always been an historical distribution point for goods entering the city. Heavy manufacturing has moved out but several service providers and distributors have emerged over the decades to provide goods like feed, appliances, fresh-produce and even uniform gear for global operations. We have also competitively sourced services such as general construction, event security, location cleaning and data analytics within the neighborhood. For example, in April, 2020, two bids were awarded for furniture and furnishings for the New York Aquarium Seaside Café, and site cleaning after hours, also at the New York Aquarium. WCS has committed tostrategically sourcespecific frequently ordered goods locally. During the sourcing process, the major challenge is applying an economic sustainability approach to determine not only whether a prospective supplier meets our qualification requirements but also if the supplier has the scale and capacity to meet our future needs. When building a local supply base, communication of WCS culture is also as important as creating opportunities. A vendor is better prepared when they can align with the big picture, so a part of the WCS sourcing strategy goes beyond the business needs to additionally stress the vendor's ultimate contribution to the commercial ecology of WCS as well. Disappointments do occur, however,because some companies are not fully structured to meet our often variable needs; but for those that remain responsive, we work closely with them to create a pathway for opportunity and synergy with WCS.

WCS attracts several vendors on its own but as part of the Bronx Exchange and Ascend Anchor Coalition for the Bronx, we are able to gain access to a cohort of eligible local vendors who desire WCS business. Adhering to our procurement policy means competitive sourcing; and equitable but fair access to WCS opportunities by a wide and diverse population: It also means responsible stewardship of WCS funds. Relationship building and frequent interaction goes a long way toward maintaining connections.

What are the services and products you have sourced locally within the Buy Bronx program?

Bronx businesses were awarded orders for feed, ranger gear, location sanitizing, furniture and furnishing and relocation within the last fiscal year. In the first quarter of this fiscal year, we solicited proposals for capital construction as well as design and technology directly from Bronx Exchange cohorts. Procurement continues to work with WCS departments to encourage the use of local business offerings as long as it remains economically sustainable to do so.

Are you considering doing a similar project in the other boroughs where our zoos and aquarium are operating?

Procurement continues to identify opportunities to partner with economic collaboratives within the other boroughs using similar strategies to amplify the source, cost and quality of the goods and services which we can obtain locally.

How important is this Buy Bronx project and why?

After over a century in the Bronx, WCS is more than a neighborhood fixture. Our economic draw is significant and our reputation for fairness carries a weight within the business community. If not WCS, then whom should champion this opportunity? Buying from the Bronx is a direct investment in the vibrancy of the zip-codes surrounding WCS. This "buzz" attracts a reason for brilliance, innovation and investment; every dollar spent today is an investment in the future of the Bronx and an insurance that WCS and its community stakeholders progress equitably into the coming decade.

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