Mesa is home to Arizona’s largest school district — and a whopping $130 million worth of annual purchasing power for items ranging from lunch food to computers to athletic equipment.
That money can go to local businesses or faraway companies, but school officials have decided more of its funds need to be spent closer to home.
A new buy-local initiative will help bolster the city and the state’s economy, said Bill Munch, purchasing director for the Mesa Unified School District. The district has just announced it and is rolling it out in the next few weeks.
“I felt it was important for the school district to seek out local vendors to keep money in the local community where we can,” Munch said.
The focus is on purchases less than $50,000, which do not require competitive bids. Purchasing specialists will have marching orders to contact local businesses first to determine if they can meet the district’s needs. The district will have a list of members of the Mesa Chamber of Commerce to begin with, but other Arizona businesses will be contacted as well.
To help businesses, the chamber will hold workshops to train businesses on doing business with the district. Also, workshops will help businesses understand the bidding process for contracts more than $50,000. Munch said more businesses would compete if they knew how to navigate the system.
“Those documents are not scary,” he said. “We can explain it to them and answer any questions that they have.”
Mesa chamber President Peter Sterling said he expects to train district purchasing agents in a few weeks. After, the chamber will train businesses so they understand a process that might be foreign to them.
“Sometimes government is hard to do business with and some people have a stated policy of not doing business with governments because it’s so hard or costly to get a bid in,” Sterling said.
Munch initiated the buy-local idea with the chamber and said he sees more potential. He’s on the board of the Arizona Association of School Business Officials and will work with other districts to encourage similar buy-local initiatives. He said he opposes having criteria that would give extra weight to local businesses when comparing vendors and said non-Mesa businesses sometimes will win out because of better service or pricing.
Munch didn’t have an estimate of how much the district spends locally. The district is researching that as it builds a formal program around the initiative.
Sterling said he considers the district’s approach entrepreneurial and opposes any criteria that gives local businesses an edge.
The chamber has nearly 1,000 members and estimates Mesa is home to 17,000 businesses.
Mesa purchases items that include consulting services, audiovisual equipment, photocopiers, printing supplies, athletic equipment, textbooks and computers.
“We by a ton of food,” Munch said. “We get truckloads of food everyday for 62,000 students.”
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