If you run a small business in Kentucky, you may not know you have the opportunity to increase your export potential. Companies can begin exporting or boost their current international sales through the State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) grant funded through the US Small Business Administration.
Small businesses that wish to participate in the STEP program must submit an application by Nov. 23 and use approved funds by Dec. 31. Funds are available on a first-come, first-served basis and companies can secure approval before final plans for the capital are in place.
Nearly 260 STEP applications had been approved for Kentucky companies entering the current round of funding, 83 of those coming in the most recent round, the most since Kentucky began participation in the program in 2011.
“The STEP program is a great opportunity for small businesses across the state to enter or expand their presence in the international marketplace,” said Erran Persley, executive director of international affairs and business development at the Cabinet. “STEP not only provides funding to encourage export growth, but helps to establish relationships that can lead to sustained, long-term business opportunities and take companies to new heights. We want every Kentucky company to have a chance to succeed, and this program is one of the ways we can accomplish that mission.”
Skilcraft, a sheet metal fabricator based in Burlington, Ky., is making use of the STEP program for the third straight year. The company has used STEP funds to travel internationally for events like the Farnborough International Airshow. This year, the company will use its approved funds to take part in the 2018 Canada Trade Mission conducted through the World Trade Center. There it will meet with key OEMs for one-on-one meetings that would have otherwise potentially taken years to establish through normal sales call activity.
“STEP has been a big help in Skilcraft participating in international efforts within the aerospace industry in particular,” said John Zurborg, president and CEO of Skilcraft. “Participation in events such as Aeromart and the upcoming trade mission with B2B meetings would be more difficult. It’s a no-brainer to participate. It broadens your company’s exposure with some support that is hard to find in your small company budget.”
Skilcraft will be joined by other Kentucky companies in Canada, including Space Tango Inc. and Highlands Diversified Services, Inc., just to name a few.
STEP is designed to encourage and boost international trade among Kentucky’s small businesses and help give companies the resources, connections and knowledge necessary to begin exporting. The grant also increases the volume of exports for Kentucky companies already in the international marketplace. The creation and cultivation of global demand for Kentucky-made products and services allows STEP to help businesses grow, invest and create jobs throughout the commonwealth.
The grants also help to lower costs for small businesses to encourage participation in international trade missions, sales trips and subscription services provided by the US Department of Commerce. Funds also assist companies with international market research, export trade show exhibit costs, training workshops, travel expenses, translation services and product compliance testing.
STEP aligns directly with the goals of the Kentucky Export Initiative (KEI). Through KEI, the Cabinet partners with a coalition of agencies and organizations. KEI streamlines and promotes the state’s efforts to help Kentucky businesses reach global markets.
In 2017, Kentucky set an all-time high mark with $30.88 billion worth of products and services sold internationally, a 5.8 percent increase over the previous record set in 2016.