As the business world becomes increasingly global, businesses find themselves surrounded by new and expanding opportunities, but finding buyers remains difficult. For firms that are typically outside the established trade networks, such as rural businesses, firms owned by minorities and women, small business enterprises and new firms, the problem of identifying buyers and opportunities is especially difficult. CATALIST is a sophisticated information dissemination system created to address this problem, which operates under the umbrella of the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER).
PNWER is comprised of Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, Alberta, and the Yukon Territory. It is a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization created by the legislatures of the seven jurisdictions and supported by their dues. As a public-private partnership, it is lead by governors, provincial premiers and legislators, as well as private sector delegates on the CATALIST executive committee. In creating CATALIST, PNWER vastly expands and accelerates the coordination of businesses with real-time procurement and trade information through a multistate business database.
CATALIST targets business leads for firms by coding every lead and every business in its database with an eight-digit Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) number. Normal SIC numbers used by the US Department of Commerce have four digits. CATALIST employs the extra four digits to give greater classification detail. Leads are gathered through trade journals, from overseas state trade offices, government procurement announcements, and the US International Trade Administration, and are coded in this fashion. CATALIST's software is then able to make matches between leads and PNWER firms based on these classifications. Thus, a rural business in western Washington can be connected with a consumer in Sri Lanka.
CATALIST disseminates leads via fax within twenty-four hours of their receipt. Fax technology is considered the preferred method simply because it is available to more businesses and is more universally accessible than online bulletin boards. CATALIST cites that 90 percent of all businesses have fax capability, while only 7 percent have access to the internet. Additionally, it is believed that fax is a more proactive method as it guarantees that firms receive the information, whereas an online transmission requires active participation by firms.
By centralizing a vast amount of business information from an array of disparate sources, both domestic and foreign, CATALIST creates a one-stop clearinghouse to the advantage of Pacific Northwest businesses. Program success is gauged by the number of leads and firms involved in the system. Between 1993 and 1995, leads rose from 1,000 to 12,000. In the same period, the number of firms involved rose from 25,000 to 50,000.