“I get paid to shop.”
That was Kim Nicholson’s response when asked to describe her work as a procurement officer. That might sound like a dream gig to a lot of people, and for Kim, it often is. She has had her share of unusual acquisitions over the last couple of decades but says her current role as Procurement Officer for the Atlanta BeltLine is her most rewarding professional experience and declares it, “the best job I’ve ever had because I feel like I am utilizing my skills to the fullest.”
Kim grew up in Decatur, Illinois – the “soybean capital of the world” and original home of the Chicago Bears – living in a blue-collar community. After high school, she spent some time in Kansas City and worked in various jobs there and back in Decatur before making her “first, best career move” by relocating to Bloomington, Illinois where she worked briefly for State Farm and discovered an entirely different business environment. After State Farm, Kim took a job with the City of Bloomington, which provided her first exposure to purchasing, bid processing and procurement. She says, “at the city, I purchased everything from ambulances to zoo animals.” Seeing the long-term opportunities this presented, Kim became a member of the National Institute of Government Procurement and pursued certification as well as a college degree. She achieved both in 2004, receiving CPPB certification and graduating magna cum laude from Lincoln College with a degree in arts and a minor in business. She did all of this while continuing her work with the city and raising two children.
In 2012, Kim wanted a new change of environment and took a job as a county procurement officer in St. Louis. However, she quickly found this to be an unwelcoming culture of “institutional, systemic, and voluntary segregation” and began a new nationwide job search. During this time, she visited her now-grown son in Atlanta and stayed at his home on Irwin Street. Seeing all the construction activity in the area, she asked what was going on, and it was then that she first learned about the Atlanta BeltLine project and the development of the Eastside Trail. Months later, she was thrilled to find a posting for a procurement officer with the Atlanta BeltLine and quickly applied. In 2014, she became the first – and to this point only – Atlanta BeltLine Procurement Officer.
Having years of experience in the procurement space, she felt certain this role would be like her previous work. She immediately saw this was not the case and says, “it was a complete shift away from securing goods and services and managing maintenance orders.” Suddenly, she found herself seeking bids for professional services such as engineers, designers, and construction firms. Undaunted, she set about to establish policies and procedures for procurement and to provide staff training on how to pay attention to every detail of the process.
“Instead of thinking outside the box, this job encouraged me to make a bigger box” she says. She had to define terms for fair and open competition for bids, ensure compliance with regulations, and affirm all aspects of procurement were conducted in a transparent manner. She views her work as helping her colleagues—“rock stars with experience from all over the world that are recognized in their fields,”—navigate procurement processes correctly.
One of the principal goals of the Atlanta BeltLine is ensuring equitable inclusion, and this is a point of emphasis in the procurement process. They partner with local organizations such as Georgia Minority Supplier Diversity Council and the Atlanta Business League to encourage engagements with, and bids from, minority and disadvantaged businesses (MBEs and DBEs). Kim says, “the directive comes from the top and everyone is committed to equity and inclusion in the selection and contract award process. We emphasize not only the importance, but also the expectation of inclusion when we conduct our pre-bid/proposal meetings.”
Looking ahead, she says collaboration is the most critical component to the success of the project going forward. She emphasizes the various project goals such as equity, affordable housing, health and wellness, and job creation, saying, “we can’t just build the trails and the project is over. We all have to work together, because the work is connected, and we all touch each other.” She says she is very excited about the work to come and says, “when I came to the Atlanta BeltLine, I dove right in. I was fully invested, and I am still fully invested today.”
Kim says the beautiful thing about the Atlanta BeltLine is that there is something for everyone, though she is particularly fond of the calm solitude on the Westside Trail. She says, “it offers an opportunity to relax, unwind, and enjoy nature and art.” She currently lives with her two-year-old Shih Tzu and, in her free time, enjoys golf, riding her electric bike, playing canasta, and creating memories with her granddaughter, Aiden.