Creole Culture Asserts Itself in New York
The utilities industry, with its mega-establishments that provide electric power, natural gas, steam, water, sewage, and telecommunications services, is a multitrillion-dollar behemoth. The electric power sector alone is worth more than $218 billion, surpassing telecommunications and gas, according to the Edison Electric Institute, the sector's premier trade association.
CEOs and managers of supplier diversity programs at some of the nation's largest utility companies are quick to point out, as competition for customer dollars intensifies, the bottom-line, image-enhancing benefits of doing business with minority vendors. Even so, minority sourcing faces enormous challenges, even within corporations whose leadership has embraced diversity. The U.S. Department of Commerce's Minority Business Development Agency confirms those challenges in a 2001 report entitled "Energy & Utilities. Minority Business Development: Economic Value and Benefits." The report raises such issues as entrenched relationships, where buyers prefer to stick with known relationships rather than risk new ones; resistance at the middle-management level; the impact on past MBE sourcing efforts when utility companies divest generating assets; and the difficulty in integrating minority sourcing into postmerger processes.
Advocates of supplier diversity are further frustrated by the fact that many minority vendors are still too small to meet today's volume and competitive-pricing demands. Unfamiliarity with the procurement process, inadequate exposure and the lack of advocacy also are drawbacks for many minority vendors. Moreover, increased competition due to deregulation of the electric industry has put pressure on utilities to streamline operations, maximize the efficiency of operating facilities and decrease overhead in order to remain competitive. This, in turn, places additional burdens of responsibility on diverse suppliers.
Utility top brass insist that their supplier diversity programs, while they may evolve in response to the changing business landscape, will not be derailed by economic or geopolitical pressures. TNJ took a look at some of those programs. Creoles from the Caribbean, Africa and the United States are staking a claim in New York City's rich cultural tapestry with an annual spring extravaganza of business, food and entertainment. Billed as "your visa to 1.5 million Creole Americans in New York," Creole Expo debuted in June 2002 as a one-day event featuring product and services exhibits as well as performances by artistes from Dominica, Haiti, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Lucia, the Seychelles, French Guiana and Louisiana. Creole Expo 2003 will be held on Sunday, June 1, at New York City Technical College in Brooklyn.
"Creole Expo celebrates the art, music, history, and culture of the world's Creole-speaking countries. This year we expect over 200 exhibitors and sponsors who will promote their products and services to over 10,000 attendees from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Boston," says Gina Faustin, president of Kompa Guide, a Queens, New York, travel and entertainment production company, and co-producer of Creole Expo.
Creole culture, including the language, is a hybrid of French and African culture, with other influences ranging from Carib in Dominica to East Indian in the Seychelles islands off the east coast of Africa. In Louisiana, America's Creole capital, Cajun cuisine is increasingly popular. "Creole culture is our mannerism, the language we speak, the food we eat. It's the similarities within our differences that we celebrate. If you speak Creole with someone from the Seychelles you would not know where that person is from. They could be from Haiti or Dominica, because their Creole is so close to ours," says Faustin.
Always in the shadow of their larger neighbors, Creole countries are among the world's best kept tourist secrets. Dominica, "the nature island," for example, is often confused with the Spanish-speaking Dominican Republic. Creole Dominica not only is home to the annual World Creole Music Festival, it also boasts the largest proportion of centenarians in its population.
"Creole Expo is another way to highlight the smaller islands that people generally do not think about for vacation," says Faustin.