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May 22, 2013

 

State Leaders Support Continuation of Trade Program Funding


LEXINGTON, Ky.---Fourteen governors, an Alaska state senator and the heads of three state trade offices have signed letters of support for the continuation of the State Trade and Export Promotion grant program, or STEP, part of the 2010 Small Business Jobs Act.

The Council of State Governments and the National Governors Association together are leading a coordinated effort to share state voices regarding the STEP program. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, 2013 CSG president; Alaska Sen. Gary Stevens, 2013 CSG chair; Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, chair of the NGA Economic Development and Commerce Committee, and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, also a member of the NGA Economic Development and Commerce Committee, signed the joint letter for CSG and NGA.

In addition to the joint letter, CSG collected 14 individual letters to congressional leadership from a bipartisan group of governors. The letters highlighted the importance of state trade and export promotion and noted that exports accounted for 48 percent of all domestic economic growth in 2012. State trade offices work through CSG and its affiliate, the State International Development Organizations, or SIDO, to coordinate with federal stakeholders to support American small and medium-sized businesses to compete globally.

"States have proved themselves to be engines of innovation. With a small investment in export promotion, the U.S. has been able to significantly grow our economy," said David Adkins, CSG's executive director/CEO. "This growth is a direct result of STEP funds being used strategically and creatively by state economic development and trade leaders. Many states have successfully grown small businesses by connecting them to global markets. STEP is a program that works to build more economically vibrant states and in turn, a stronger nation."

CSG was instrumental in drafting and advocating for the STEP program, a three-year pilot trade and export initiative authorized by the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010. Funded by federal grants and matching funds from the states, the STEP program is designed to help increase the number of small businesses that are exporting and to raise the value of exports for those small businesses that are currently exporting. STEP grants can be used for any services or activities that assist a small or medium-sized company preparing to enter a new market or increase the activity of that company in an existing market.

All 50 states, Washington, D.C., and U.S. territories were invited to apply for STEP grant awards. Over the course of two years, 49 states, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands won a STEP grant award.

"As state trade offices are being called upon to provide ever-higher levels of service, the current fiscal crisis has prompted governors and legislatures to make difficult budget choices," said Wade Merritt, vice president of the Maine International Trade Center and SIDO president. "During this time, the unprecedented STEP program has provided much-needed support for state trade offices and exporters, leveling the playing field and making it possible for U.S. companies to compete in a global market. A consistently funded STEP program has the potential to truly revitalize American exports."

States have seen impressive economic benefits stemming directly from the STEP program. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal noted that, in his state alone, the number of trade companies receiving services from the state's Department of Economic Development increased by 30 percent. He also cited an increase in the number of export opportunities provided to companies in the state by 121 percent and increased the number of export deals by 17 percent. One deal in particular netted the sale of $1.5 million worth of nuts from three south Georgia producers.

"These international sales, which for some of the growers represented their first incursion into the Israeli market, have helped bolster not only the Georgia companies' balance sheets, but also their confidence in the value of exporting," Deal wrote. "Had it not been for the funding provided by the STEP Grant program, this opportunity would never have taken place since the state of Georgia did not have, and still lacks the funding to be able to provide such opportunities to the eligible small business entities in our state."

Most states saw similar results. The Washington state STEP program has helped more than 387 small businesses, with export sales forecast to reach $203 million. In the past 18 months, Mississippi's trade team has facilitated 23 business development missions and participation for small and medium-sized companies in 20 trade shows and exhibitions worldwide. The state of Illinois has used STEP to increase the number of export services offered, including implementing programs and trainings for small and medium-sized business owners aimed at helping them enter into markets outside the U.S.

"The STEP program has allowed us to provide high-impact financial and technical export assistance to Illinois' (small and medium-sized businesses) for participation in sector specific overseas trade shows and matchmaking missions," wrote Adam Pollet, acting director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

Other state leaders who have written in support of continuation of the STEP program are Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, Maine Gov. Paul LePage, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin. Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Catherine Smith and David Rochlen, president of Jams World in Hawaii, also wrote letters to support continuation of the program.

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The Council of State Governments is our nation’s only organization serving all three branches of state government. CSG is a region-based forum that fosters the exchange of insights and ideas to help state officials shape public policy. This offers unparalleled regional, national and international opportunities to network, develop leaders, collaborate and create problem-solving partnerships.