East Texas counties exploring power of cooperation
Gregg, Smith county officials form purchasing association
When Kelli Davis was named Gregg County purchasing agent in July 2014, County Judge Bill Stoudt asked her to consider the possibilities of joining with neighboring counties and other governmental entities to take advantage of joint purchasing association opportunities.
Stoudt says he didn’t really have much knowledge of purchasing co-ops but was certainly intrigued by the idea and the savings one might bring to Gregg County taxpayers. “I didn’t have much experience with them at all,” says Stoudt. “But Kelli brought in such expertise with purchasing, and that’s something that we never really have had here in Gregg County. So, when she came on board, I mentioned it to her that we could form a purchasing co-op and then kind of left the idea alone. And Kelli took off and ran with it. I think it’s going to pay big dividends for the county.”
Davis (pictured) has worked for county governments for more than 20 years and spent the last 10 years as a purchasing agent. She serves on the boards of directors for both the Texas Public Purchasing Association (TxPPA) and the National Procurement Institute (NPI) and has received service awards from both of those professional associations.
Among the steps she has taken to put Stoudt’s ideas into action was to join with Smith County Purchasing Director Kim Gould to form a local chapter of the National Procurement Institute. “I reached out to NPI, because I knew of only one other chapter in Texas, in the North Central Texas region,” Davis says. She is the new chapter’s president and Gould its vice president.
Through NPI, the 14 counties that make up the East Texas Council of Governments will be able host training and certification courses and vendor awareness training seminars during which government procurement officials work with vendors to educate them about working with the public sector.
The training is key for Davis. Purchasing agents and other government employees need to stay up to date with certification requirements, and those courses are usually taught in large cities like Dallas or Austin. With a local NPI chapter offering those classes (through the professional development program of The University of Texas at Austin’s LBJ School), public sector employees in East Texas will be able to stay closer to home for training.
“We’ve been going out of our region for training,” she says. “Now, we’ll actually have local training. That alone will save costs to government. It’s really hard to get away to get your training hours. So just to be able to do that locally will be a savings.”
The group’s first meeting was held in November, and representatives from 10 local governments showed up to express interest. “I feel like we would’ve had more interest if we’d have given more notice,” says Davis. They’ll host another Dec. 17 at the Smith County Commissioners Court and have sent out notices to more than 100 entities in the area.
The interest is growing, too. “I’m excited we’re getting a lot of feedback from our own departments and colleges [in Smith and Gregg counties], but I’m also excited we’re getting feedback from entities throughout our region,” she says.
The goal is to include purchasing officials from all levels of government in the area: counties, municipalities, colleges and even nonprofits.
The goal is to save money any way they can. In the resolution sent to NPI requesting approval for the local chapter, Davis wrote that the “benefits and goals to form a Regional Charter Association” were:
- Education of the procurement profession for the region;
- Joint purchasing opportunities;
- Local training with official education credits for certified purchasing officials;
- Money savings for entities by being able to utilize local association for networking;
- Regional vendor fairs and expos; and
- Vendor awareness of doing business with public sector.
It’s still early, of course. But Davis envisions that in the new year, the group will “host a ‘meet and greet’ for local officials like Judge Stoudt” to educate them on the benefits of the chapter and of regional partnerships in general. There will be vendor expos down the road, too, for private companies to present their products and services to purchasing officials all in one place.
“It’s for anyone who wants to learn about government purchasing,” Davis says. “We just wanted to have a venue for them to do that. For anyone who just wants to learn, really.”