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S. Florida companies recommit to diversity as economy recovers

By Joan Fleischer Tamen
Business Writer

April 18, 2002

An ambitious effort to recruit top-notch minority candidates to South Florida and increase diversity among South Florida employers has been stymied in the past year by the economy, corporate downsizing and the loss of three original members.

But the seven remaining partners in the South Florida Avenue Coalition, a joint diversity effort, are determined to lead change and better their results in an improving economy.

Representatives of the companies will meet today with the South Florida chapter of the National Black MBA Association to discuss how to reach their goals: increase diversity among their employees and expand the number of companies in the coalition.

The coalition currently comprises fast-food giant Burger King Corp., software developer Citrix Systems Inc., utility company Florida Power & Light Co., Toyota distributor and auto services company JM Family Enterprises Inc., workers compensation insurance specialist NCCI Holdings Inc., office products retailer Office Depot Inc. and sporting goods retailer The Sports Authority Inc.

No longer with the group are Royal Caribbean Cruises Limited, Sensormatic Electronics Corp. and Ryder System. All three have undergone sizable layoffs in the past year, and Sensormatic is now a subsidiary of Tyco International.

"The economy has been a challenge, some are simply not recruiting and some had to make choices under budget constraints," said Annette Merritt Cummings, vice president and national director of diversity services for recruitment communications company Bernard Hodes Group. "The core group remains committed, and we're working to increase members."

Cummings of Coral Springs launched the idea three years ago to bring the companies together to maximize recruiting budgets, combine efforts and entice minority candidates to South Florida.

They have recruited as a team at the conferences of two minority professional organizations -- the National Black MBA Association and the National Society of Hispanic MBAs. The coalition is a cost-effective strategy for recruiting diverse candidates, say the companies.

"The energy we put in has paid out hundredfold," said Therese Swanberg, chief of human resources for NCCI in Boca Raton. "The coalition is very focused on expanding minority presence in business here."

That's especially helpful for companies such as NCCI, JM Family or FPL, which will not have the instant name recognition of companies with a national presence such as Office Depot or Burger King.

In two years, the coalition members have recruited eight new hires in professional and management positions.

Office Depot has hired its director of marketing, manager of stores finance and a senior analyst in business services as a result of its work with the coalition, said Leslie Tell, senior manager of recruiting for the Delray Beach-based office products retailer.

Augustine Garrett, 42, Office Depot's manager of stores finance, first met company recruiters in the fall of 2000, during the first year of the coalition, at the National Black MBA Career Fair.

"That was my first exposure to Office Depot. I had been living and working in Michigan for 12 years and targeted Florida corporations for lifestyle reasons," said Garrett, who last fall relocated for his new job at Office Depot.

Joan Fleischer Tamen can be reached at jtamen@sun-sentinel.com or 305-810-5030.

Copyright © 2002, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Copyright © 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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