The STEP (State Trade and Export Promotion Program) offered by the Small Business Administration aims to offer small businesses in the U.S. a way to reach a global market. And right now, supporters of the program are in position in Washington, D.C., to get the program renewed.
STEP grabbed some attention last week during the confirmation hearing (pictured above) for new SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet. At the hearing, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, (D-Wash.), who has since taken over as chair of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, asked Contreras-Sweet if she would support reinstating the STEP Program at the SBA.
STEP was created as a 3-year pilot program through the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010. The program was designed to award federal grant money that was matched by a small business’s home state. According to the SBA website, the goal of STEP was to give small businesses tools to reach a global market so they can begin exporting their products. It was also intended to raise the value of exports for companies that already sold globally.
Some of the services offered through STEP include website translation, support for small business participation in foreign trade missions and foreign market sales trips, and design for international marketing media.
There program made $30 million available to small businesses each year through STEP Program grants during its pilot program.
Cantwell pushed the issue of renewing the program during Contreras-Sweet’s nomination hearing. She said in her home state of Washington, STEP has helped secure at least $136 million in foreign sales for small businesses. Those businesses have largely used STEP assistance in reaching Asian markets. During the nomination hearing, Cantwell said:
“We have huge opportunities to the Asian market in the Pacific Northwest and we certainly want to see us use these promotions to help meet the agenda that the administration has on doubling the number of exports out of the United States – certainly small businesses can play a very big role in that.”
The SBA Administrator nominee said she liked the STEP Program and would support its renewal. During her confirmation hearing, Contreras-Sweet said:
“I appreciate that it provides for introductions, in many instances internationally. And so there’s so many good components around STEP and in a globalized economy, we have to find ways to make sure that small businesses, too, can compete in that. There is currently in my view, with technology and all the other tools that are available to us, the lowest barrier to entry for a small business opportunity.”
I guess that this is generally good news for small businesses. Expansion after all is always a good thing. And with the power of the Internet, reaching global markets has become more important than ever.