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Sonya and Tim Catlett in warehouse

Tim and Sonya Catlett started a business forms and supply company in their basement in 1988.

With hard work, persistence and some strategic matchmaking help from NCIMED, Progressive Business Solutions in Raleigh stands today as one of the leading minority-owned firms in the Southeast. Among its product offerings are printing, fulfillment/warehousing, marketing promotional items, janitorial and cleaning supplies, and office supplies and furniture.

"Relationships mean a lot," Catlett said. "NCIMED works behind-the-scenes to leverage their relationships with large corporations and encourages them to do business with local, small, minority-owned businesses."

Corporate matchmaking, done with intention and purpose, is a vital service NCIMED performs for clients and the larger business community. Through its networking events, one-on-one assistance and training, NCIMED is a trusted advisor to businesses, government agencies, policymakers and organizations that understand the key role diversity plays in ensuring business and economic success.

For Catlett, the corporate matchmaking partnership with NCIMED has resulted in $1 million a year in revenue. Upon NCIMED's recommendation to Duke University procurement administrators, for example, Catlett was able to secure a substantial contract to provide janitorial paper products and supplies. In addition, this allowed him to establish a new product line at a time when other businesses in North Carolina and across the country were still reeling from the recent recession.

Duke procurement executives say the relationship benefits the university.

"We have been extremely pleased that Tim's commitment to service has exceeded our customers' expectations," said Jane Pleasant, associate vice president, procurement and supply chain management for Duke University and Duke University Health System.

By diversifying its supply chain, Duke also strengthens the region's economy.

"We recognize that Duke has the ability to significantly impact the local economy by supporting diverse businesses," said Mary Crawford, director for procurement programs and small business liaison for Duke University and Duke University Health System. "We choose to work with firms who mirror the diversity of our customers, students, staff and patients."

Catlett's long-standing relationship with NCIMED also led to a contract with UPS, handling employee recognition products, including certificates and pens, in the United States and Canada.

A game-changer for Catlett and Progressive Business Solutions happened when First Citizens Bank agreed to move all of its print management and distribution operations from Winston-Salem to Progressive's warehouse in Raleigh.

For years, Catlett sought to develop a relationship with First Citizens on his own, even moving his own money from another bank to stimulate business. However, Catlett said, it was the mentorship that developed between him and Jim Mebane, a NCIMED board member and a former senior vice president at First Citizens Bank, which made the difference.

"Jim was always an inside advocate for us," Catlett said. "He would tell me about the bank's culture and how to approach them. He gave me encouragement and told me not to give up."

It's this last point, Catlett said, that inspires him the most.

"NCIMED and [its president] Andrea Harris are committed to helping minority-owned businesses," he said. "Just knowing you have an advocate out there makes you strive to do well."