FRANKFORT, Ky. — Small businesses in Kentucky looking to begin or increase their export opportunities are encouraged to apply for State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) funding as soon as possible, as grants are awarded to eligible companies on a first come, first served basis.
Qualifying companies can use STEP grants to cover or lower the cost of international trade missions, sales trips and subscription services provided by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Additionally, the funds can assist companies with export trade show exhibit costs, training workshops, travel expenses, translation services and product compliance testing.
Thus far, the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development has received 60 applications for the current round of STEP funding. Approximately $170,000 remains available from the FY2019 funding pool. The Cabinet also was recently approved for an allocation of $300,000 in funding for the upcoming FY2020 funding cycle.
Since its 2011 inception, STEP has provided funding for hundreds of small businesses in the commonwealth, creating millions of dollars in new trade revenues. In 2018 alone, Kentucky awarded nearly $240,000 in STEP grant funding to 68 businesses. Capital from the program has assisted with a range of expenses, from industry trade shows to trade missions in Canada, the United Kingdom and China, just to name a few.
Announced earlier this year, eligible companies can now each receive up to $10,000 in grant funding for the FY2019 cycle and beyond, up from the previous amount of $5,000.
“STEP has been an absolutely essential tool in our ability to help Kentucky small businesses take the major step of developing or growing their global presence,” said Erran Persley, commissioner of business development at the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development. “We have seen companies expand into markets that would have otherwise never been possible without the assistance of STEP funding. It has been a great success here in Kentucky and we highly recommend that interested eligible businesses apply for a grant as soon as possible.”
Since STEP was established in 2011, Kentucky has served as a leading example of how a state can work with companies to expand their footprint and move into new markets. During that period, the commonwealth also has established itself as a major player on the global stage. In 2018, Kentucky companies set the state’s all-time record by exporting more than $31.7 billion in products around the world.
One of the many Kentucky companies to capitalize on export opportunities through STEP has been Somerset Wood Products. STEP funding has allowed representatives from the company to take part in trade shows annually, as well as expand in emerging markets, such as Vietnam. The funds also have helped the company expand its efforts in regions where it has an existing presence including China and Europe. STEP has played a significant role in Somerset Wood Products’ ability to grow its exports business from virtually nonexistent eight years ago to several million dollars annually today.
“SBA is proud to partner with the STEP grant winners and provide much-needed resources that help small businesses increase their sales by exporting,” said Chris Pilkerton, acting administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration. “The SBA’s STEP partners not only help entrepreneurs increase and diversify their customer base, but also help to create and retain local jobs.”
The commonwealth is home to more than 340,000 small businesses that employ nearly 700,000 people. That is approximately 96.5 percent of all companies in the state. Small business has been a significant contributor to Kentucky’s economic success, and STEP has taken that success to the next level.
The continued success of the program is reflected in the most recent rounds of funding. Over the past two years, Kentucky has been approved for allocations of $530,000 and $400,000, respectively. Those resources have helped companies gain exposure on a global scale, while also raising awareness of Kentucky-made products. Though many companies have already taken advantage of the program, funding remains for eligible small businesses with international aspirations.
STEP is an SBA program administered in the commonwealth by the Cabinet. Companies that meet the federally defined criteria of a small business and will export products that are at least 51 percent US content could be eligible for a grant.
STEP also aligns with the Kentucky Export Initiative (KEI). Through KEI, the Cabinet partners with a coalition of agencies and organizations. KEI streamlines and promotes the state’s efforts to help Kentucky businesses reach global markets.
Learn more about the STEP program and apply here. Email completed applications to STEP Program Director Carol Stringer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find out more about Kentucky’s exporting efforts at www.KyExports.com.