By Scott Williams
A program initiated by the U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce will help 200 companies along the 2,000-mile border between the two countries avoid being left behind in the Internet revolution.
"Wiring the Border," a public-private partnership designed to bring e-commerce capability to small and medium-size enterprises, will give 150 U.S. and 50 Mexican enterprises hardware, software, Internet access, training, and business-to-business connections with major corporations needed to tap into the e-commerce marketplace.
"Communities along the border have not shared in the economic growth enjoyed by most Americans the past several years, but they have borne a disproportionate share of the burden," says Albert C. Zapanta, president of the U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce. "This initiative will help small businesses reach the international marketplace and compete effectively around the world."
The U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce, along with the U.S. Treasury, U.S. Energy Department, and U.S. Small Business Administration, announced the program May 24 at a conference at the University of Texas at El Paso.
Charles Cervantes, legal advisor and projects coordinator for the chamber, says major U.S. and Mexican corporations are sponsoring the project. IBM has agreed to supply the hardware and software, while TelMex, along with its U.S. partners, has agreed to contribute telephone services and a year of free Internet access.
"What we want to do with the e-package is to enable companies along the border to be able to participate fully and competently in the world of electronic commerce," Mr. Cervantes says. "They're being left out of the e-commerce revolution, and we want to plug them in."
Virgil Horton, chairman and chief executive officer of Cornerstone Communications Group, a business development company in McLean, Virginia, and a chamber member, will help printing companies use the Internet to boost sales. "What 'Wiring the Border' does and the U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce is doing is not letting small to medium-size enterprises fall through the cracks."
The chamber is working on selection criteria, a process that began in El Paso and was to continue in July at San Diego State University. Mr. Cervantes says the chamber hopes to attract representatives of border companies who can offer suggestions for appropriate selection criteria.
Mr. Cervantes says that, for now, to be eligible for the program a business would have to be profitable and in business for at least two years. Service companies would have to have at least $1 million in annual revenues, while manufacturing plants would need $5 million. Companies also will be required to make a commitment to explore international business opportunities and dedicate at least one person to work on e-commerce on a daily basis.
The chamber will ask its large-company members to help train small to medium-size enterprises to bid on procurements, which are increasingly being done online. "We will be asking all of our members that have very large online procurement opportunities to offer those opportunities to our Border 200," Mr. Cervantes says. "Once they're properly trained and properly wired, they should be able to bid on all of the procurements that are out there. Even if they just get 1 percent or 2 percent as an aggregate, the numbers could be significant in terms of economic growth."
Mr. Cervantes says the Border 200 companies also will be trained in bidding on procurements for both the United States and Mexican governments. The U.S. Postal Service alone spends more than $500 million each year on printing, according to Mr. Horton.
Once connected, these border companies also will have access to ACE-Net, the chamber's online venture capital network, whereby businesses can gain access to up to $5 million to be used for company expansion.
Mr. Cervantes imagines border companies using the Internet to increase sales and then turning to the Internet again to acquire venture capital to pay for improvements that will accommodate more growth.
Representatives of Commerce One, a business-to-business leader specializing in procurement, were to attend the July conference to talk about procurement. Commerce One has organized several consortiums in various fields in recent months, including the automobile, aerospace, and energy sectors. Mr. Cervantes says the aerospace consortium alone accounts for $400 billion a year in sales from 37,000 suppliers worldwide.
He also says companies from several service and trade sectors will be chosen from sister cities with high concentrations of manufacturing facilities. He adds that aggregate revenues and profits from e-commerce will be tracked for the first three years.
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