Program helps small firms export on a global scale

Maria Contreras-Sweet
Maria Contreras-Sweet

The world extends far beyond our nation’s borders. In fact, two-thirds of the world’s purchasing power can only be found if you look outside the United States.

Modern economies are global. That means small businesses owners have to think and work globally to thrive. In Colorado, entrepreneurs have embraced this new competitive reality by exporting goods and services at a growing rate. Small companies comprised 87 percent of Colorado exporters in 2013 — from the ranch in the San Juan Mountains selling beef to the Denver business selling computer components.

The U.S. Small Business Administration remains committed to ensuring small firms in Colorado and across the U.S. have the tools and resources they need to take their business global.

I recently invited Colorado Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne to join me at the World Trade Center in Denver to announce the SBA has awarded the state $186,140 through its  State Trade Expansion Program. Launched in 2011, this program allows 56 U.S. entities to compete for federal matching-fund awards that help small businesses start or expand export activities.

With STEP funds, small businesses learn the basics of exporting, participate in foreign trade missions and trade shows, develop websites or international marketing campaigns and much more. Last year, Colorado’s STEP award helped entrepreneurs participate in trade shows in Germany, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates.

The results have been amazing. In the program’s first three years, STEP award recipients generated an average of $22 in U.S. small business export sales for every dollar awarded. Colorado’s return on investment has been even higher with an average of $32 generated for each dollar awarded. Increasing export sales also create jobs in Colorado — more than 43,000 jobs were supported by exporting in 2014.

STEP is an important part of President Barack Obama’s national export initiative, an effort launched in 2010 to create more opportunities and level the playing field for U.S. firms looking to expand globally.

Aircraft Technical Book Co., a small business based in Tabernash, ranks among the world’s leading suppliers of aviation maintenance, aircraft homebuilding and flight training materials. Andrew Gold, president and founder of ATBC, launched his company in 1997 based on his lifelong love of airplanes. He soon discovered a niche market and looked to expand his focus to the aircraft maintenance education community worldwide. Like many other small business owners looking to expand overseas, Gold had to learn how to deal with different economies and different cultures.

With the help of STEP funds, Gold attended a trade show in India and engaged online resources in search of new customers and partnerships. Today, the nine-person company is expanding to develop a new certification for aviation and aerospace avionics technicians in the U.S. and in Europe and in turn setting up ATBC to expand to serve a new untapped market.

There are millions of small businesses owners across the nation like Gold who understand the future is boundless and the international marketplace is our future. STEP is just one of many ways the SBA helps small businesses become part of this global future.

STEP complements other SBA efforts that include Export Express, the export working capital loan program and international trade loan program.

Contact the SBA to speak to an export finance manager about the counseling, training and financing opportunities available to help small businesses grow and compete across borders. For more information on the Colorado STEP grant program, call the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade at (303) 892-3840.