Washington, D.C.— Today, Rep. Sharice Davids (D-KS), Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Tax, and Capital Access, convened a panel of trade experts and small business exporters to discuss how international trade can fuel small business recovery and growth. The hearing focused on the current state of the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) State Trade Enhancement Program (STEP) and how potential improvements can help lower barriers for small businesses to sell their products overseas.
“As we prepare for STEP reauthorization, we must look closely at what’s working well in the program and identify areas for improvement. Improving operations and efficiency within STEP will help American entrepreneurs break into exporting and boost the overall economy,” said Chairwoman Davids. “I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about their experience with STEP and the actions Congress and SBA can take to ensure the program helps as many small businesses as possible.”
The STEP program was created in 2010 as a three-year pilot program to encourage small business exports and provide small business export assistance. In 2015, Congress authorized $30 million in funding for the program through 2020. STEP helps ease the unique challenges facing small business exporters by providing matching funds to states and territories for participation in trade missions, international marketing efforts, workshops, export trade show exhibits, and other promotional activities. In FY 2021, SBA supported $832 million in export sales through STEP and assisted over 3,400 small businesses.
During the hearing, witnesses testified on their experience with STEP and ways Congress can improve the program as they work to reauthorize the program.
“Georgia was fortunate to receive $162,488 in 2020 and $240,000 in 2021 through STEP. We have experienced a steep learning curve in launching the STEP grant during the pandemic, but the response from small businesses has been tremendous,” said Mary Waters, Deputy Commissioner of International Trade at the Georgia Department of Economic Development. “According to our most recent data, those funds assisted 124 small businesses, including 23 new to export firms. To-date, exporters have reported more than $1.69 million in sales, for a return on investment of 10.4 to 1 during the initial grant performance period.”
“We decided in 2021 to embark on the mission to export our BBQ products to Mexico. Working with Lu, it was determined that the STEP KITMAP offering was the Grant we needed to apply for,” said Luther L. Tooks, Chief Executive Officer of Pyramid Foods, LLC in Shawnee, KS. “We consequently applied for and received a Grant to help get our marketing brochure and labels translated into Spanish. In addition, we also were able to get our labels properly reformatted and printed to meet the requirements for the sale of our products in Mexico. As a result of that assistance, we were able to distribute our products into Mexico in 2021 and have increased our sales in 2022”
“The small exporters that have received the program’s support have sold into countries ranging from Canada to the Czech Republic, from Iceland to India to Israel, and from the United Arab Emirates to the United Kingdom,” said William E. Spear, Manager of the Office of Export Promotion at the State of New Jersey Business Action Center of the New Jersey Department of State. “Their exports are in industries as different as chocolates, coffee, and dairy animal testing; food and financial services; and operating room products and water purification systems. Looking forward, NJ STEP is putting an increased focus on new to export firms and companies from small and underserved business communities. We have also increased NJ STEP funds to reach and support those firms.”