I have now been a public purchasing official for almost 28 years. In that time our profession has seen many changes. Previously we were a group of people who were not recognized by the public, or our own organizations, for what we did to save public tax dollars. Now our profession is expected to provide new ideas and strategies on how to procure items for our agencies at the best overall cost. The change has taken a long time, and I believe it has happened because people in the profession have embraced the idea that education and certification are the keys to being recognized as true professionals.

I consider myself one of the lucky people who got started in the public purchasing field. Less than a month after I started working for Red Wing, Minn., as the "Purchasing Agent," I received a phone call from a man named Richard Pearson. He identified himself as the purchasing manager from Anoka County, and he invited me to come to a meeting of the newly formed Minnesota Chapter of NIGP (National Institute of Governmental Purchasing). It only took a couple of minutes for me to realize this was a group of people that had the knowledge and experience to help me do my new job better.

Back then, NIGP was an organization — like its members — that was not known for the value it could bring to public purchasing. NIGP had members all over the country and in Canada, but they did not have the same recognition as the American Public Works Association or the other associations. In 1987, I earned my CPPB. It was the 713th certificate ever issued. No kidding, only 713!

Another way that we can see how far our profession has come is to look at the vendor community. When I started, most vendors saw the purchasing agent of a government entity as someone that was just getting in the way between them and their contract with the parks, police, fire or public works department. Now the vendor community looks to us to make sure our purchasing practices are fair for everyone. The vendor community looks to purchasing professionals to form partnerships that can be long-lasting.

There are many individuals who have had a hand in making these changes happen. Many of the past and current board members for NIGP have long proclaimed the importance of education and certification. Many people were involved with the original partnership with Florida Atlantic University to get started on a curriculum that would be accredited throughout the country's higher-education institutions. In my opinion, there is no one person more responsible for these incredible strides for our entire profession than Rick Grimm. As the executive director for NIGP, Rick has moved this organization forward with passion, leadership and thoughtful strategic planning.

Our colleagues at work and the vendors we do business with now understand that these four letters — CPPB or CPPO — mean they are dealing with a professional in the public purchasing field. We are educated; we are well-trained; and we are dedicated to the communities we serve. We are certified professionals.

Jay T. McCleary, CPPB, deputy director of public works, Red Wing, Minn., is a charter member of the Editorial Advisory Board for Government Procurement magazine.