STEP Program Still Driving State Export Success
While Congress remains deadlocked over both the fate of the federal budget and the best approach for kickstarting America’s still moribund economy, at least one federal program, conducted in partnership with the states, is achieving its intended result.
With slightly more than two years of results under its belt, the State Trade and Export Promotion matching-grant program is delivering real export successes across the country. Given this track record, The Council of State Governments has increased its advocacy effort to ensure this vital program continues.
The STEP program was created in 2010 as part of the Small Business Jobs Act. The three-year program was designed to help small businesses export—whether they are new to export or currently exporting goods. Whether it’s training staff, translating websites into foreign languages, covering the cost of U.S. Department of Commerce matchmaking services or travel to and participation in trade shows, states can use funding from the STEP program to assist small business expansion in a variety of ways.
In Maine, STEP funds have been used to help match businesses with new customers and distributors.
“Company meetings are set in advance with importers that have already shown an interest in our products, and by the time we meet with them a lot of the preliminary work has been done,” said Carl Spang, president of Auburn-based Falcon Performance Footwear. “We feel that matchmaking is one of the best returns on investment in terms of identifying new buyers for our products.
“Participating in the Maine International Trade Center’s matchmaking services has been a very cost-effective and time-saving way to connect with new customers and distributors overseas.”
The Michigan Economic Development Corporation and Automation Alley’s International Department, a private-sector matchmaking association directed JEMS Technology to the STEP grant program.
“The funds helped JEMS secure contracts/transactions in China—specifically a group of hospitals in Shanghai, where the total business opportunity exceeds $10 million,” said Kevin Lasser, CEO of JEMS Technology.
JM Grain of Great Falls, Mont., used the STEP program to attend the Gulfood Trade Show in Dubai, UAE, where company officials were able to make sales with six new buyers, accounting for an estimated $600,000 in additional export sales over the next 12 months.
Argus Fire Control of Charlotte, N.C., used STEP funds to attend overseas trade shows and to translate its marketing material. The company now has distributors in more than 70 countries around the world.
STEP has not gone unnoticed by state political leaders either. Delaware Gov. Jack Markell wrote an op-ed praising STEP and calling on Congress to continue the program in the July 8 issue of The Hill. Markell is not alone; 16 other governors have urged Congress to support the STEP program in recent months.
So far, the reaction from members of Congress has been positive. In April, 24 U.S. senators urged the appropriations committee to fund STEP for a third straight year. But in a political environment where federal spending is heavily scrutinized, it is important to make sure programs like STEP do not slip through the proverbial funding gaps. CSG will continue to monitor STEP and remind leaders in Congress that it is a priority for states.