The good news: State Trade and Export Promotion (STEP)—a pilot program that provides money to states to encourage small businesses to export—just received its third year of funding from the Small Business Administration. The bad? That funding has fallen significantly.
The SBA said it will give STEP $8 million this year, with states having until May 20 to apply for the money. But STEP received nearly four times as much funding from the SBA in the past two years, receiving $29 million in 2013 and $30 million in 2012.
"The STEP program is another way that the U.S. Small Business Administration is partnering with states to give small businesses the tools and resources they need to take their business to the next level,” SBA administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet said in a news release.
Yet President Barack Obama doesn’t appear to be treating STEP as a priority anymore: “The problem is the Obama administration stripped funds for STEP grants in its $710 million budget request for the SBA next year,” the Business Journals reported.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Democrat from Washington state and chair of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, is pushing to get more funds for STEP. She argues that small businesses account for 70 percent of new U.S. jobs, and only a small fraction of them export. Meanwhile, most of the world’s consumers are outside the United States. Helping U.S. small businesses export could thus help them grow and add jobs.
Every state handles STEP funds a bit differently. Minnesota, for example, uses STEP funds to provide financial assistance for small-business owners wishing to go on trade missions or exhibit in overseas trade show. STEP grants in the state can also help pay for translation of materials, development of foreign language websites and other materials.
It is worth noting that the there are several other government services that provide assistance to small businesses wishing to export. Along with state trade offices, the U.S. Commercial Service has officials inside embassies overseas able to provide advice and assistance, and the Export-Import Bank of the United States offers a host of export-related financial products.
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