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The big score: African-American vendors and Major League Baseball team up to form a winning combination. (Sports).

WHEN Ed Robinson opened his printing company 24 years ago, he had no idea that hundreds of thousands of people would be seeing--and using--his work on a regular basis, and he certainly didn't think that his efforts would be an essential part of Major League Baseball.

For the past 15 years, Robinson, owner of Robinson Graphics in New York, has been one of the minority vendors who supply a variety of goods and services to make sure that the national pastime continues to be a fan favorite. If fans want to know the date, time and location of a game, they have Robinson to thank because he is responsible for producing wall-size and pocket-size schedules for each team. Additionally, during playoff time, he produces media guides that include valuable information about participating teams.

"This year I produced 200,000 schedules," says Robinson, who began his association with baseball by producing confidential directories, complimentary passes and the rules and regulations that were posted in the clubhouses. "The people at Major League Baseball have been with me year after year. I've given them my all, and in return they have come back and given me whatever work they can."

Baseball's Diverse Business Partners program, which invites minority-owned and women-owned businesses to "step up to the plate," is one of the most respected programs of its kind in the sports industry. And the program was strengthened recently when Major League Baseball signed individual partnership agreements with the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) and the Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). Those agreements provide Major League Baseball access to national and local minority-owned and women-owned business information that enhances baseball's objective of diversity.

"By partnering with NMSDC and WBENC, we've created conduits through which Major League Baseball can effectively build these business relationships and provide our clubs with access to specialized knowledge and resources that support the league's efforts," says Wendy Lewis, vice president, strategic planning for recruitment and diversity for Major League Baseball. "Through these agreements, Major League Baseball's Diverse Business Partners program continues to evolve and grow, and serve as a working model for all professional sports."

During the program's existence minority vendors have included a wide range of participants, including those who provide catering, uniforms for front-office staff, event planning, moving services, media relations and marketing services. And there's even a group--Ralph G. Moore & Associates in Chicago--that is a consultant to the program itself, offering management consultants who specialize in supplier diversity program development and training.

Then there is Edna Abernathy, who has taken advantage of opportunities that have significantly contributed to her company's bottom line. Her Milwaukee-owned company, E.R. Abernathy Industrial Inc., was one of the major suppliers during construction of Miller Park, the new home of the Milwaukee Brewers. The company's long list of contributions to the project included office cabinetry, roofing materials, and elevator and escalator supplies.

When construction was complete, Abernathy's company (which focuses on industrial safety, construction supplies and waste management) then successfully bid to get the contract to provide $100,000 worth of garbage cans that are located throughout the stadium. Additionally, for the All-Star game, her company supplied about 200 conference tables and coat racks for the mid-summer classic at Miller Park.

Charlotte Tinsdale, director of purchasing for the Milwaukee Brewers and one of the reasons for Abernathy's association with baseball, says: "She's very professional. She's competitive. She's good, and she's on time. Some people still don't think minorities can provide top quality, but I am very happy to bring someone to the table who can contradict all of those stereotypes and misconceptions."

Abernathy, who started her $2.5 million company 10 years ago, established herself soon after opening her business when she began providing garbage cans for the city of Milwaukee. That five-year association strengthened her reputation in waste management, including chemical waste management, and led to other jobs, including the ones with baseball.

"I'm a Brewers season ticket holder and when I get to the game and see people using my contributions, I get a special feeling," says Abernathy, who has a diversified client base that includes Chrysler, Caterpillar and Mitsubishi. "It is true partnering when people reach out and look to do partnerships in a new way, particularly as it relates to minority-owned and women-owned companies--being far-reaching in their inclusiveness. And thanks to baseball, I--like other minority vendors--am enjoying that satisfying feeling of being included."
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Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2002
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