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Matchmaking program connects S.C. suppliers with Tier 1 companies

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Small and medium-sized suppliers dream of getting in front of Tier 1 companies and original equipment manufacturers like Boeing, BMW and Volvo. But how does a small business stand a chance for face time when up against the big dogs?

Six years ago, the S.C. Department of Commerce and the S.C. Automotive Council joined forces to create a solution. A sort of speed dating experience, the S.C. Automotive B2B Matchmaking Event connects OEM and Tier 1 suppliers with Tier 2, Tier 3 and smaller suppliers with 10-15 minutes of rotating face time.

Sit down, share your ideas, then rotate when your time is up.

“Having this level of procurement professionals come together to meet with prospective suppliers is really an unmatched opportunity,” said Amy Tinsley, executive director of the S.C. Automotive Council.

Since 2015, the program has grown to include 10-20 OEMs and Tier 1 companies, many from out of state, that are interested in meeting and learning more about the South Carolina suppliers.

“This event helps to further our state’s automotive industry by creating a unique venue for companies to learn more about each other and make new connections all in one convenient location,” Tinsley said.

Annually, the B2B matching event is held on the first day of the S.C. Automotive Summit, where the auto council comes to play.

“Oftentimes it’s very exploratory for our South Carolina companies to get in front of larger organizations that they won’t have access to,” said Tammie Greene, business outreach manager at S.C. Department of Commerce.

More than 250 suppliers signed up for the B2B matchmaking event in February 2020 — the most recent event held in person, as 2021 was hosted virtually because of the pandemic. In their minds, suppliers came to meet companies like Volvo or Continental Tire, Greene said.

“But when they arrived, they realized that there are so many other small and medium suppliers that they were not aware of,” she said. “They’re thinking, I really want to get in front of BMW and Michelin, but not realizing some of the other small and medium players in their backyard as well.”

Though the virtual transition was not by choice, Tinsley and Greene said there were positive aspects that came with re-evaluating the program and going online. In the past, companies were randomly selected for matchmaking, but 2021 forced the organizers to be more strategic in who gets set up.

Even more impactful, OEM and Tier 1 companies who had been unable to attend in the past because of travel or scheduling conflicts were able to attend online in May.

Companies like Kia Motors and Arrival, a bus company setting up a plant in South Carolina, also participated for the first time this year, showing the event’s prominent growth.

The B2B matchmaking event has been so successful, even NASA requested to get in on the game. Given South Carolina’s reputable suppliers, Greene said she wasn’t surprised at the organization’s interest.

In early March, Commerce in conjunction with Charleston County, who has a partnership with NASA, held the NASA Supplier Matchmaking Summit.

For their part, Commerce was approached for its expertise in facilitating an event that could connect NASA officials and NASA prime contractors, such as Linc Research Inc., Northrop Grumman and Sierra Nevada Corp., with South Carolina suppliers. Even companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin, which work closely with NASA, were present, Greene said.

All the suppliers who signed up had the opportunity to meet with a member of the NASA Office of Procurement, and Greene noted that connections were made.

“It’s no surprise that folks like NASA are seeking opportunities in South Carolina,” Greene said. “We are home to some top-notch, well-recognized companies throughout the world.”

To continue growing the B2B event, organizers created a Procurement Panel, which consists of representatives from S.C.-based OEM and Tier 1 companies. Panelists share best practices, as well as strategies that potential suppliers can consider to make the most out of their matchmaking meetings.

Going into every event, Tinsley said the organizers carefully manage attendance to allow “adequate time for impactful meetings.” Though it’s hard to quantify how many connections have been made across all the B2B sessions, she said many have resulted in contracts, new business and additional opportunities.

Looking ahead, Tinsley sees further growth for the program and for the state’s automotive industry — an industry that maintained its No. 1 national ranking for the export sales of both tires and completed passenger vehicles, making up more than $11 billion of South Carolina’s $30.3 billion in 2020 export sales.

“Our state’s automotive industry is resilient,” she said. “There have certainly been challenges — COVID-19, supply chain issues related to the Texas winter storm, continued semiconductor shortage, etcetera, but our automotive companies have remained flexible and focused.”

Reach Teri Errico Griffis at 843-849-3144.

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