Today, U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-ID) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) announced plans to introduce bipartisan legislation this year to extend a critical program that would help small companies sell their products overseas and create jobs in the United States. Cantwell and Risch serve as the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee.
The bipartisan effort would renew the State Trade and Export Promotion (STEP) program, which was enacted as part of the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010. The three-year pilot program was designed to help small businesses by awarding grants to states to help small businesses begin or expand exports of their product. But the pilot program expired in 2013. The senators' plan would transition STEP from a pilot program to a full program. Risch and Cantwell will make improvements to the program based on lessons learned from participating states and companies.
Both Idaho and Washington state are in the top 10 nationally for return on investment in the STEP program. Idaho received $405,128 in the first two years of STEP funding with 89 grants to 69 companies, resulting in more than $11 million in export sales; that export activity resulted in a return on investment of 27:1.
Washington state has received about $3 million in STEP grants, which helped about 450 small businesses and contributed to $169.9 million in export sales. In Eastern Washington, 35 companies have been awarded $100,000 in STEP grants and leveraged that assistance to generate more than $18 million in export sales.
"With the global marketplace becoming more competitive every day it is increasingly important for American small businesses to be able to compete," said Risch. "Many small businesses in Idaho and the rest of the country have seen great success and increased exports with the help of the STEP program. I enjoy working with Senator Cantwell and look forward to working together on bipartisan legislation that would reauthorize this important program."
"Here in the Pacific Northwest, we know that growing exports creates jobs," Cantwell said. "I'm honored to be working with my Northwest colleague, Senator Risch, on this bipartisan effort to support small businesses and entrepreneurs reaching new international markets. The STEP program is a critical tool for small businesses to increase exports in a growing global economy."
Risch and Cantwell announced the legislation in Spokane while hearing from small- and medium-sized business owners that have participated in the STEP program. The Senators hosted a roundtable with Northern Idaho and Eastern Washington small businesses that have used SBA programs to export products made in the Inland Northwest.
During the roundtable, Risch and Cantwell heard from businesses about their successes and challenges in using the STEP program -- feedback that they will incorporate into future legislation. Four Idaho businesses represented the state, including Ground Force Mfg, Bullet Tools, Cascade Rescue Company, and Whiteman Lumber Co.
Risch and Cantwell will be reviewing the full range of U.S. assistance to small business exporters to consider how the United State can continue to grow exports and small business jobs.
On Friday, Risch and Cantwell toured one of Spokane's top exporters, Hotstart, which manufactures engine pre-heaters to improve the reliability of generators, gas compression equipment, locomotives, ships, and large trucks.
The senators also traveled to Hayden, ID to tour Bullet Tools, a tool manufacturer named as the U.S. Small Business Administration's Exporter of the Year for the Northwest region in 2009.
During the first year of grant distribution under the STEP program, which is administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration, $30 million was awarded, supporting more than $330 million in actual and projected state-reported export sales.
The STEP program helps small businesses increase exports by boosting the amount and value of their products going to overseas markets. The program produced a 17:1 return-on-investment in its second year, supporting $529 million in exports from American small businesses. Just 4 percent of American small businesses currently export, despite the fact that 95 percent of the world market of consumers is outside of the United States.