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SBA funds available for exhibitors

Small Business AdministratoinThe U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is encouraging states and U.S. territories to apply for $30 million in grants that can be used in a variety of ways, including attending and exhibiting at overseas tradeshows.

The grants were authorized by the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010, under the State Trade and Export Promotion (STEP) program. The program is a three-year pilot, funded by federal grants and matching funds from the states. STEP is designed to help increase the number of small businesses that are exporting goods internationally.

Among the programs that STEP will fund include small business participation in foreign trade missions and tradeshows in countries such as Taiwan, the United Arab Emirates, Brazil, Canada, Israel, Japan, Chile, Germany, Korea, India and China.

The STEP program, launched in March 2011, was originally setup to work with President Obama’s National Export Initiative. The President’s initiative called for doubling U.S. exports in five years, and in doing so, supporting two million jobs.

“Federal investment in small business exporting is already beginning to pay dividends in foreign sales and economic development, which translates into a stronger economy and job creation,” said Karen Mills, SBA administrator. “Through the STEP program, new-to-export and new-to-market firms are selling American products and services in markets all over the world.”

The federal program provides government funding for 65 to 75 percent of program costs, with states supplying the remainder.

In 2011 when the program debuted, 47 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the Virgin Islands received STEP grants totaling $30 million. The average award was for $577,000.

Not all of the states and territories were allowed to distribute funds to small businesses for exhibiting at and attending tradeshows. However, four of the top six recipients, including Pennsylvania ($1.7 million), Washington ($1.59 million), Michigan ($1.46 million) and the Northern Mariana Islands ($1 million), were allowed to include exhibitions in their grant monies.

Other states that can grant money for participation in tradeshows include Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Connecticut, Hawaii, Minnesota and Kentucky.

Each state also has a different set of activities it can fund through STEP. Some, like Kansas, are very specific. Its program focuses on introducing Kansas producers to foreign markets through tradeshows specifically in Russia, China and Costa Rica.

“Strengthening the nation’s economy through a substantial increase of U.S. exports is a top priority for the Administration and the agency,” said Mills. “This is a unique partnership between the federal government and the states. Sharing responsibilities and resources will help new small exporters across the country enter and succeed in the global market.”

The first round of state grants was awarded in September 2011 and must be used for tradeshows that take place before September 2012.

The SBA is already accepting applications for the second year of the STEP program. The states and territories that apply for the $30 million in grants for 2012 will be notified of the amount of the award by September 30, 2012.

“The future looks even more exciting with key marketing initiatives ranging from South Korea, to India and the European Union,” said Mills.

For more information on how each state can use its STEP programs funds, visit www.sba.gov/step.

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