Milwaukee Anchor Collaborative moves into execution phase

Milwaukee Anchor Collaborative moves into execution phase

Major health systems and educational institutions are working together to boost businesses and hire job seekers of color in Milwaukee’s lowest-income neighborhoods.

The Milwaukee Anchor Collaborative set goals this fall to collectively increase purchasing with businesses owned by people of color in eight zip codes by $5 million annually by 2026. They plan to increase hiring of residents of color from those zip codes by 33 percent over the same time

“We have a good group of individuals and institutions,” said Rodney Moutry, collaborative director. “Everyone’s on board and ready to execute.”

The collaborative, organized by JobsWork MKE, is a formalization of work pursued by its members, which are Advocate Health, Ascension Wisconsin, Children’s Wisconsin, Froedtert Health, the Medical College of Wisconsin, Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Its work focuses on the 53204, 53205, 53206, 53208, 53210, 53212, 53216 and 53233 zip codes, where 206,000 people live. A third live in poverty.

Froedtert Hospital CEO Eric Conley said his health system has set goals to increase minority leadership by 25 percent by 2025, have more supply chain spend money on underrepresented minority and women-owned companies, and have a 25 minority participation rate in each master service agreement that they enter into with their partners, including for construction.

“It’s important for organizations to be willing to talk, collaborate, and be open and vulnerable,” Conley said. “We have to break down some barriers that have been traditionally there that may not have been known, to look in communities, to look in neighborhoods, to look in networks that we traditionally haven’t had. And we find individuals here who are absolutely qualified, who are looking to be a part of something. That’s what this collaborative starts, and it’s up to all of us to continue on that progress.”

Moutry and Conley recently spoke to Wisconsin Health News.

Edited excerpts from their interviews are below.

WHN: How did this effort get its start?

Rodney Moutry: Almost 10 years ago, (the organization now known as JobsWork MKE) was started by Bill Krugler. At that particular time, he had engaged with some of the leaders of the anchor institutions. They spent some time looking at the necessity of trying to help to grow businesses in the city of Milwaukee … Long story short, the leaders of those organizations said they would be interested in trying to engage with businesses primarily owned by individuals of color in the city of Milwaukee to see if they have products and services in line with what their needs were, from an anchor institution perspective. Ultimately, we were able to prove the model over a number of years that we could identify diverse businesses here in the city that could meet some of the needs … We kind of came back and said, ‘Hey, here’s what we’ve been doing, and here’s what we’ve been able to prove. Here’s what’s been going on. Here are the successes.’ We all agreed that the model had been proven, or the ability to be able to develop it had been proven. However, we all agreed that we could be having a much greater impact than what we had been having up to that particular point.

So hence, nationwide, there were some other cities that had begun collaborations, which, basically, you pull together anchor institutions in those larger cities that have a significant amount of spend and hiring power. And so we actually pulled in a national organization called the Democracy Collaborative … Then we reconvened the presidents of the anchor institutions and came back and said, ‘Hey, this is what we want to do. This is what we’ve been seeing in other cities around the country. We believe Milwaukee is primed for this type of initiative.’ And, ultimately, the leaders of anchor institutions agreed.

WHN: Are there any specific industries you’re targeting? 

Rodney Moutry: It can range anywhere from commercial cleaning, office cleaning, all the way up to construction, courier services, painting services. And, ultimately, we really would love down the line to be able to dive a little bit deeper, whether it be some type of medical supplies.

And so the way we’re looking at it from a purchasing perspective is, ‘Sure, we have businesses that are here. We want to prioritize those businesses.’ But at the same time, we also want to look and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got existing businesses. When we look at the data, there might be opportunities that could be there for bringing in and pulling in a business that may not already be in the local area.’ Let’s say, for instance, the four healthcare institutions do business with X company in Florida. Maybe we need to approach X company in Florida and say, ‘Hey, it may not be that you’re relocating your whole business, but you have four significant clients here. Is there a way for us to be able to maybe create another offshoot location from your business here in the Milwaukee area?’

Third, we might just look at the data and say, ‘You know what? We don’t have any existing businesses. We don’t have a business that we’ve identified, but maybe there’s an opportunity to create a business” … And if we do that, that’s where we go back to our targeted zip code area. Then our preference would be to focus our attention on trying to either the business that we pull in or the business that we start be headquartered in our targeted geography.

On the other side, in regard to hiring … There’s a lot of need right now, especially in the healthcare industry as it relates to employment. And so part of the way we’ve looked at it, and again we’re very focused, hyper-focused on that zip code area, but we’ve looked at it and said, ‘Number one, for the population in that area, how familiar are they with healthcare jobs?’ Sometimes when you hear healthcare jobs, you think it’s just doctors, nurses and things like emergency room support. But there’s a lot more to the healthcare industry and positions that are needed. And so, I would tell you that we’re very focused more on low- and mid-skilled positions right now.

The key here is, when we talk about hiring and employment, we’re really talking about trying to help individuals maybe first get a job. But then we really want to look out further than that. We want them to be focused on not just establishing a job or securing a job. How can that job maybe lean toward them establishing a true career? Because that’s really how we begin to have an impact in the city that we’re talking about is when individuals can see themselves in a career. That career could maybe start off in food service. But maybe it turns out that you’re working in the emergency room as a surgical technician. We want to keep ourselves open because we believe that there are a number of individuals that are capable, but just need to have the opportunity, the exposure, and the know-how to be able to build a career.

WHN: Eric, what are your goals and how did you decide on them? 

Eric Conley: Part of our goals … (is an) increase in minority leadership by 25 percent by 2025. That is our major goal that we focus on. We still also want to continue to hire more people of color across the board … And there’s the other component of this: belonging, making sure it’s an environment where people of color, particularly in leadership positions, but in all positions, really stay within the organization.

… Diverse thought, diverse viewpoints all make us better. So it’s really having that as we have to really reflect the communities, reflect the diverse mindset, diverse views, in order to continue our growth as an organization, as a health system, and continue our drive towards excellence.

WHN: Where are you with the goals? 

Eric Conley: So we’ve hit them, almost all of the goals, particularly the one in leadership. We have had an increase by 25 percent of our minority leaders. But the other things that we’re doing that we measure the progress are really in partnering with communities and programs throughout the community. So we’re involved heavily in All-In Milwaukee. We’re sponsoring students that come here in the summer and work. We partner with Marquette University and the College of Nursing from a nursing perspective of bringing more nurses through the pipeline. We are doing all those things. We are, with our surg tech program, also looking into the community and tapping into how we get individuals from the community or diverse communities into programs to fill a need. So all these things, from nurses to surg techs and many other programs, aren’t just programs that we do because we want to improve our numbers as it relates to our minority employees. But those are positions that we need, positions that are vital to healthcare and our progress.

WHN: Rodney, where do things stand?

Rodney Moutry: Things are trending positively. And there’s a lot of momentum as to what we’re doing and what we’re engaged in … For us to get to the collective goals, each of the eight anchor institutions have their own individual goals that ultimately roll up to help make up the collective goal. And so as part of that, we have these councils. And the councils are established for us to look at how we can be successful in reaching and attaining our goals, collectively. But then we also bring forward ideas, best practices. We bring in folks from outside of the area to talk about some of the things that they’ve done … Then there’s a lot of work that’s done by me and the anchor institution representatives in order to begin to drive the individual progress that’s needed at each of these anchor institutions that then ultimately turn into the success that we want to have.

One of the reasons why we shared our five-year goals is that — and we’d love to be able to blow those goals away before that — but at the same time, as I say, we didn’t get into this situation, in this need overnight. Nor are we going to solve it overnight. We wake up every day trying to solve it overnight. However, the reality of it is that it takes a little bit of a mindset change … The whole purpose of establishing the Milwaukee Anchor Collaborative was that so that we can become more collective in trying to accomplish and have the impact that we want to have here in the city of Milwaukee, in order for us to become a bit more public in what we’re doing so that the public understands, so that we can pull the public in on what we’re trying to accomplish. And then ultimately to become more formal so that we can all hold each other a bit more accountable.

WHN: What has the collaborative allowed you to do in terms of working with other institutions in the area? 

Eric Conley: It really just makes the entire area better … It’s about: How do we do our hiring approaches differently? How are we making sure our networks are expanded to include networks where people of color are involved? And that’s what the collaborative kind of helps. You learn from one another, learn from each other. We tap into resources that traditionally we may not have in the past or traditionally have not looked at. And by learning from each other, having the dialogue, having the conversation, that has improved.

And then it’s also about making sure that as we hire, while we understand that it’s very, very important to keep employees, not just from an engagement perspective, but the whole sense of belonging. When you are a person of color coming into a majority organization, you can have that sense of being isolated, alone. That’s where working with our collaborative partners and our colleagues can help. We can learn from each other to make these environments more comfortable.

WHN: What are the next steps?

Eric Conley: To continue the progress. Yes, these are goals that we want to hit. But we don’t want to stop with that. We want to continue to increase in all aspects of that hiring. So we get to 25 percent, we don’t just want to stop there … It’s about a real balance. We’re not as lopsided, if you will, with our leadership positions, that folks of color feel that they belong in the organization, that we are tapping into new streams of employment and streams of communities that we haven’t historically. So that when we turn around and look at our workforce, both from a front-line staff, a provider perspective and in leadership, again, you’re looking at a very diverse organization.

Rodney Moutry: We’ve got a lot of the administrative components behind us, and now we truly have moved into the execution phase … When we look at the purchasing piece, it is about not just identifying the businesses. Because I think we’ve already identified some of the businesses that can meet some of the needs of these anchor institutions. Now we’re in that phase of, ‘OK, how do we take the relationship from an introduction and here’s what our business can do for you’ to now turning those conversations into actual contracts and growth and scaling. And once those businesses begin to get contracts within these anchor institutions, now you’re talking about the businesses scaling and growing themselves from a revenue perspective. And what that immediately equates to is those businesses needing to hire more employees as well. And so that is a component of why you see the model that you see, with both the purchasing and the hiring.

Because as we look at the purchasing piece, it’s the growth in the scale of those businesses … how do we take those small businesses into becoming mid-size businesses and large businesses. But also, is there a way for us to be able to pull in a business or create a company that maybe can be a mid-size company or a larger company? That’s what we have to begin to do. When we start seeing more of that, now you’re talking about true impact in the community that we have all set out for the economic impact. Because when people are working and they’re able to also work in the general area of where they live, that’s ultimately when you start talking about seeing consistent success inside of a community. And that’s what we’re trying and setting forth to do.

Now, when we talk about hiring, it’s kind of the same thing. I think, especially the healthcare institutions, there’s obviously a great need. And so, we’re working with community partners … and identifying other resources that we can utilize to be able to not just identify potential employees, but then help to develop those employees up, to train those employees, help to hopefully retain those employees.

This article first appeared in the Wisconsin Health News daily email newsletter. Sign up for your free trial here.


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