Illinois utility leaders announced June 11 the formation of the Illinois Utilities Business Diversity Council designed to grow business opportunities for diverse suppliers through closer collaboration, technical development and sharing of best practices.

The Illinois Utilities Business Diversity Council members include Ameren Illinois, ComEd, Illinois American Water, Nicor Gas, North Shore Gas and Peoples Gas. In 2014, these companies spent a combined total of approximately $698 million on goods and services provided by minority, women and veteran-owned businesses. In addition, the companies spent approximately $440 million with small businesses.

Growth in utilities’ spend with diverse suppliers is due in part to the Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act (EIMA) or “Smart Grid Bill” enacted in 2011, and the Natural Gas Consumer, Safety & Reliability Act enacted in 2013. As a result, Illinois utilities are undertaking a massive upgrade to the state’s aging energy delivery infrastructure, installing new technologies and equipment to reduce outages, improve reliability, and provide customers with programs to manage and save energy.

James H. Lowry, a nationally recognized workforce and supplier diversity expert, has been working with the utilities to establish the Council and will serve in an advisory capacity along with James R. Monk, president of the Illinois Energy Association.

Once a year, the Council will submit a written report to inform the Illinois Commerce Commission on activities and progress toward meeting goals and objectives. The Council will also coordinate an annual meeting for diverse businesses, legislators and the ICC, to discuss the evolving state of diverse business growth spend in the Illinois utilities industry. The Council will also place an emphasis on helping the utilities with their respective procurement goals for minority-owned, women-owned, veteran-owned and small business enterprises.