Diverse Suppliers Key to TVA’s Success

TVA is committed to small, Valley-based, and diverse businesses — those owned by women, people of color, veterans and those located in historically underutilized business (HUB) zones. Read what one such supplier has to say about doing business with TVA. 

APRIL 16, 2019 — In FY 2018, the Tennessee Valley Authority set a new supplier diversity record, spending more than $445 million with diverse businesses—those owned by women, people of color, veterans and those located in historically underutilized business (HUB) zones. 

TVA’s commitment to working small, diverse and Valley-based business drew nearly 100 supplier representatives to TVA’s 7th annual Supplier Diversity Summit in Knoxville, Tennessee, on April 16.

“Just like TVA’s energy portfolio is strengthened by diversity, so too is the effectiveness of our mission when we partner with a wide range of businesses who reflect the diversity of the Valley,” said Rebecca Tolene,vice president TVA Supply Chain & Enterprise Improvement. “Over the past five years, our annual spend with diverse suppliers alone has increased by 65 percent.”

TVA currently spends more than two thirds of its almost $3 billion annual supply chain budget with Valley-based businesses.

We caught up with Wes Stowers, president of veteran-owned Stowers Machinery Corporation, Knoxville, Tenn., who attended the summit, to learn more about his company and what it’s like working with TVA.

Here is what he had to say:

Tell us about your business.

We are a family-owned machinery company serving East Tennessee. We represent Caterpillar in the eastern thirty-eight counties of Tennessee. Our company sells, repairs, and rents new and used Caterpillar equipment. We’re able to provide jobs for 380 people in the Tennessee Valley. TVA is one of our largest customers and has been since our business began.

How did you get started?

Fresh out of the U.S. Air Force with a wife and a new baby, my dad needed a job. His degree in mechanical engineering made him a good fit for Caterpillar in 1954. My uncles were auto dealers back then. In 1960, they teamed up bringing their Caterpillar and auto dealership experience together and started their own business. It was perfect timing because President Eisenhower had just announced the creation of the Interstate Highway Program, which was to become the largest construction project ever undertaken. It’s been in our family ever since.

Where do most of your employees come from?

We hire a lot of veterans. I joined the company in 1988 following a 12-year career in the U.S. Air Force. We have a proud history of service with my father serving in Korea and my uncles in World War II.

Most of our employees come through trade school. We also have an apprentice program through our own shop. We partner with colleges in the region to recruit new employees and we’re engaged with the Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) to hire locally.

What is it like to work with TVA?

Growing up in Chattanooga, I heard stories from those who remembered what life was like before TVA. We take electricity for granted and the flood control that TVA provides.

I like to think that we help keep the power flowing because we do most of our business with TVA out of our rental division in west Knoxville. We provide equipment to TVA on demand, which means we get you what you need quickly. If TVA specifies certain equipment needed, we’ll make sure we carry it. TVA is also a big customer of our subsidiary – Si Tech which offers a lot of automated options. We can monitor machines remotely in the field and offer support.

One thing we like about working with TVA is integrity and trust. We don’t have to worry – you live up to the letter of your contract.

TVA has a great safety program and supports the safety standards that we uphold. You’ve got to take care of your people, this equipment is big and powerful and heavy. The right lifting equipment and the knowledge to use it are essential. We’re proud to say that we’ve learned from TVA and built a strong safety record.

How does your company promote diversity?

I believe diversity is a strength, just like TVA. There’s lots of opportunity for young people to start a career here. I hope anyone reading this will check us out. We work with recruiters to bring in young people. We’re actively looking to recruit more women. We want to make people aware of the opportunities available.

I want to break the stereotype that bulldozers and backhoes are for boys. The fact is I’m preparing my daughter Lisa to take the reins as company president in the near future. She’s my executive vice president and mother of three young children. She is a role model to encourage more women to see the opportunities in the heavy equipment industry.