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Unlocking the Procurement Economy

The Nowak Lab has a major effort underway to use the Procurement Economy as a vehicle to grow small businesses and build prosperous local economies.

The Procurement Economy is expanding, a trend driven by growing investments and spending going through local, state, and federal governments. What happens here will help determine whether the economy is tilted towards a narrow set of large national conglomerates or a broader array of locally based, small and medium sized enterprises. The Lab believes supplier development is a necessity to facilitate local growth, build stronger domestic supply chains and foster greater economic competition. The industrial and energy transitions, catalyzed by large public and private spending, are here to stay – whether small businesses will be part of those transitions and subsequent growth will depend on local and metropolitan organizing around the Procurement Economy.

For this initiative, the Lab has partnered with the Aspen Institute’s Latinos and Society Program, Next Street and the Equity in Infrastructure Project. Supporters of this work include the Irvine Foundation, Philadelphia Equity Alliance, Rockefeller Foundation and San Antonio Area Foundation.

Initiative Goal

The central goal of the Procurement Economy Initiative is to use the expanding Procurement Economy to grow small and diverse local businesses, turning it into an exercise in market making and business building. There are three necessary actions for realizing the central goal –

  1. Size the Procurement Economy by assessing the scale of spending by federal, state and local governments;
  2. Capture the challenges facing local businesses, through interviews with local firms, governmental entities, local institutions and business support organizations; and
  3. Make actionable recommendations to make the procurement system work better for small businesses and give local businesses the support they need to grow and scale.

Procurement Playbooks

The Lab and Aspen Institute for Latinos and Society have spent the past two years jointly creating a new tool – a Procurement Playbook – and applying and testing it in two communities, San Antonio and El Paso.

View the San Antonio Procurement Playbook    View the El Paso Procurement Playbook

The Playbooks recommend a series of institutional reforms designed to reduce fragmented processes and practices across buyers, build capacity and ease access to contracts among suppliers and drive a new kind of market making that builds wealth and strong local economies.

Initiative Outputs and Outreach

In addition to the two Procurement Playbooks (as of February 2024), the Lab has published several newsletters, reports and projects on procurement, supply chain finance, Black-Owned Business and Civic Intermediaries, including: 

Nowak Lab Reports

Nowak Lab Projects

  • Equity in Infrastructure Project, launched in December 2021 and led by Denver International Airport CEO Phil Washington, with Nowak Lab Support
  • Philadelphia Equity Alliance & McKinsey research on public sector contracting in Philadelphia, leading to proposal for a Supply Philly intermediary