The California Trade Network is an online service designed to help companies and professionals in California find partners, collaborate and secure opportunities in international markets. It is the only service of its kind in California and includes sophisticated business profiling, collaboration technology, and international opportunities. To our knowledge, this is the first time a business/social networking technology has been combined with a trade opportunity matching service.
Background and History. The California Trade Network was originally proposed as a “virtual trade agency” for the California, Technology, Trade and Commerce Agency and was also intended to serve as a distribution network for trade opportunities from California’s Foreign Trade Offices. These offices were abolished by the State Legislature in 2003 after some of the offices were found to be submitting false or exaggerated performance reports. The entire agency was shut down a few months later during the State’s budget crises leaving California in the unusual position of being the only State in the U.S. with no significant economic development or trade promotion authority. Because we always thought a trade network for California was a good idea, work continued on this project without government funding or involvement. The service is growing and has attracted some of the most accomplished and influential professionals in the California international business community.
Mission and Objectives. The California Trade Network has been designed to facilitate international business development in California. We believe it is possible to develop systems that will harness the power, expertise and influence of small companies and professionals in California in securing international business, and have the following specific objectives:
To accomplish this, we are providing communication systems and tools that enhance business collaboration among and between and among members of the California international business community, and potential international partners. It is our goal to become the definitive system for international business development in California.
Market and Opportunity. California is a nation-state of 34 million people with a booming trade with Asia and bordering Mexico and the growing Latin America market. While the State has many problems, California is an economic powerhouse- by some measures the sixth biggest economy in the world with a gross State product of nearly 1.5 trillion dollars. California has exports valued at more than $100 billion each year and leads the nation in international trade employment. The State receives more foreign direct investment than any other State with a value estimated to be in excess of $100 billion. California has a dynamic entrepreneurial population with small and medium sized enterprises accounting for 98 percent of all businesses in the state and providing 82% of the private sector jobs. The state also has the largest and most diverse ethnic population of any State- about nine million residents, or about 26 percent of the population, are foreign born. The California Trade Network is ideally suited and perfectly positioned to support and profit from this huge and underserved market.
The Problem and Need. There are several factors that prevent this market from reaching its immense potential- especially for small business interests. A central problem is that that California professionals involved in international business simply do not know each other, and have no easy way to communicate or to form collaborative partnerships. A related problem confronts foreign companies that wish to do business with California; there is no central place for them to go to find potential partners in California for cooperative business ventures. Still another problem is that most California firms have no way to find quality trade opportunities without a huge staff or time consuming efforts. Incredibly, until now, no one had built a system to address these problems and serve the needs of internationally-oriented firms and professionals in California. Other countries and States, on the other hand, have been active in providing international trade services to their constituencies and large commercial interests are also beginning to take notice. The Chinese trade portal Alibaba, for example, was recently infused with over a billion dollars in capital from Yahoo, a California corporation, yet there is nothing remotely comparable for companies and professionals in this State.
The California Trade Network has gone live at the web portal CALTRADE.COM and has a rich and diverse amount of content related to international business in California. An open registration system is used to opt-in to the network and to collect detailed information including a business summary, a list of the industries, trade countries and languages where the registrant has experience or expertise, communication information, and a professional photo. A sophisticated search engine allows members to be found by any industry, trade country or language listed in their international business profile that can facilitate the formation of virtual interest groups. In addition, there is a fully functional trade opportunity matching service with international opportunities being matched and delivered to members on a daily basis.
Communications and Collaboration. The network uses a business/social networking technology and has no restrictions whatsoever on member communications. It facilitates information exchange by multiple methods including:
Trade Opportunity Matching and Delivery. The California Trade Network operates a trade information service that has the ability to collect, process and deliver international trade opportunities. These include trade leads, joint venture requests, bid/proposal requests, and contract/employment opportunities. Some of these opportunities are from public sources including the U.S. Depart of Commerce Trade Opportunity Program, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the United Nations TradePoint system; others are collected directly from the CALTRADE portal and are screened before being released. These trade opportunities are classified by same industrial classification list that is used in the member’s business profiles. The matching service sends an email alert whenever an opportunity is found that matches the industrial classification and/or list of trade countries in the member’s business profile. Since many trade opportunities are time sensitive, this provides a competitive advantage to our members.
California International Business Directory. The California Trade Network operates a public directory of companies in California known to be involved in international business. This directory combines both “opt in” and “non opt-in” technologies- those listed are given the option of requesting a password that lets them maintain their profile and listing. A search engine associated with this directory allows companies to be found by industrial classifications, trade countries or California metropolitan area. Public information in this directory includes company name, industry, location and website link. Private information includes a business summary and contact information including phone numbers and email addresses that can only be accessed by opt-in members. This directory now has over 10,000 listings and is the largest of its kind in California.
California International Business Report. As an outreach to California’s international business community, we produce a newsletter that is delivered to over 5000 professionals bimonthly and contains news, political commentary and practical information related to international business in California. This opt-out mailing list includes influential professionals in California including business and political leaders, economic development professionals, most of the California Consular Corps, all members of the California State Legislature and thousands of manufacturing firms and small companies
Marketing and Business Development. In addition to our state-of-the-art business networking technology, we have also developed a unique and low cost method for growing the service. The development of the California International Business Directory is also being used as our marketing database. While researching and classifying companies for inclusion in this directory, we also send an email inviting then to become opt-in members of the network. This simultaneously improves the quality of the directory, validates the email address and generates more members for the network. We also have started sending complimentary matching trade opportunities to companies listed in the directory along with an invitation to join the network. This marketing effort has targeted about 20 industrial sectors/clusters that have the greatest business potential for international business development in California including:
For California Corporations and large companies, we typically target the International Marketing or Sales Director; for smaller companies we target the President or Owner. In addition, we are designing marketing programs to attract several specific populations including sole proprietorships, California Ethnic Groups, Business and Trade Associations and California Expatriates- i.e. residents of this State now living in other countries.
The California Trade Network is a small business, private sector response to a critically important issue. The service has been a grassroots driven effort and we have learned how to be effective with very limited resources- and have accomplished things that could not have been done even by major Corporations or Government Agencies. The service has now reached the point, however, where we recognize the need for a better organization to manage a project of this magnitude. Two organizations are currently under development- a non-profit/NGO (non governmental organization) and a for-profit California Corporation. Together, these two organizations will provide services that are not likely to be provided by the public sector or other private sector or non-profit organizations in the State. This explains the relationship between these two organizations:
California International Business Association. This is a non-profit NGO (non governmental organization) which is being developed in conjunction with the California Trade Network and offers what we believe is a disruptive business model. Membership fees for this organization are completely voluntary with opt-in membership provided as part of the California Trade Network. This “zero barrier to entry” approach will allow us to quickly become one of the biggest international trade associations in the State and will afford us the opportunities that are only available to non-profit organizations. The filing for this organization has been accepted by the California Secretary of State and we are proceeding to establish its board of directors.
California Trade Network