Goodwill Industries of the Inland Northwest restored furniture for Fairchild Air Force Base for eight years.
The company lost the contract in the late 1980s and has been trying ever since to secure other work at the base. Trouble is, Goodwill had no idea how to find out what Fairchild needed.
A joint venture announced Wednesday by the Spokane Intercollegiate Research and Technology Institute and US West should solve that problem. It’ll give Spokane companies an advantage in four years when the federal government starts requiring that all bid contracts be conducted electronically.
For the next three months, Spokane companies - including Goodwill - will test-drive a new program that accesses government bid requests via the Internet. The companies will be able to submit bids for any products or services requested by the government nationwide.
“This project gives companies in this region access to million of dollars in federal government business,” said Lyle Anderson, director of SIRTI.
SIRTI and US West unveiled the new program at Business Expo ‘96, which attracted hundreds to the Spokane Agricultural Trade and Convention Center Wednesday.
The program works like this:
US West connects businesses to the Federal Acquisition Computer Network (FACNET) via their new !NTERACT product, which uses the Internet as the bridge between businesses and the FACNET.
SIRTI is in charge of testing the new program, which includes providing training on how to use it. The option has been left open for SIRTI to continue to work with US West when the test period is over.
“That training component is what we’re interested in, helping companies learn to use the technology,” said Mary Joan Hahn, communications manager for SIRTI.
Nationwide, 27 other companies are government-certified to provide access to FACNET, said Miles Mirimoto of US West.
The FACNET contains all government purchasing agencies, including the Department of Defense, individual military bases and General Services Administration.
By 1997, all bids for goods or services costing between $2,500 and $100,000 must be conducted electronically on FACNET. By 2000, all federal suppliers will be required to bid or receive purchase orders electronically.
“By ‘99, we have to be on-line,” said Ted Sweet, Fairchild’s director of business programs.
A lot of Spokane businesses could be cut out of the loop if they don’t get on-line, said Jim Lynch, SIRTI project coordinator.
For example, said Lynch, more than 2,500 local firms do business with Fairchild Air Force Base but the base has not awarded any local electronic data interchange contracts partly because local companies don’t use the required technology.
US West and SIRTI want to change that. If companies go on-line via !NTERACT, said Mirimoto, they’ll be able to bid on contracts not only for Fairchild, but for all government agencies.
“We’ve never been able to secure another contract because we didn’t have the information available that this will bring us,” said Bobbi Johnson, president of Goodwill.
When companies sign up for the program, they file a profile informing the government of the type of contracts they’re interested in. When contracts open for bids, companies would be notified via pager or e-mail.
Bob Cooper, president of the Spokane Area Economic Development Council, said the joint venture should help Spokane businesses expand and attract new companies to the area.
More importantly, Cooper said, Spokane’s getting in on the ground floor of a new wave in expanding business. “If the government’s doing this, the private sector’s got to be next in line,” Cooper said.