Feds STEP up for smaller New York exporters

Export experts: The U.S. Small Business Administration has (once again) backed Albany's Global NY small-business-exporting initiative.

Empire State Development will use a federal grant to pump up Global NY, the international division of Albany’s main economic-development engine.

The U.S. Small Business Administration has awarded ESD a State Trade Expansion Program grant to support the growth of New York-based exports in markets around the world. The $602,115 stipend, announced in late October, marks the fifth straight year New York State has won a competitive STEP grant.

sba-logo-2While the numbers aren’t huge – all told, the SBA spread roughly $18.5 million in 2016 STEP grants among international programs in 44 states – the stipends are beefy enough to help small businesses learn how to export, develop websites that attract foreign buyers, obtain foreign-market entry services and design international marketing campaigns.

When combined with matching state funds, the SBA’s grants contribute to a $25.6 million nationwide effort. That includes a $325,215 New York investment, resulting in a $920,000 overall buy-in for statewide small exporters – a critical boost for one of the Empire State’s largest economic sectors, according to ESD President and CEO Howard Zemsky.

“Small business comprises more than 98 percent of the businesses in New York State,” Zemsky said in a statement. “They’re the backbone of our economy.”

And thanks to “our federal partners at the SBA,” Zemsky added, that backbone – specifically, the Global NY program – will be strengthened with funds earmarked for various international business-builders, including increased participation in foreign trade missions and translation services for websites and marketing materials.

“We will be able to utilize federal funding to enhance our successful Global NY program and continue to help New York State business expand to new markets around the world,” the ESD chief said.

The number of New York businesses benefiting from the STEP stipends has varied dramatically from year to year. In 2012, the STEP effort’s first year, 68 New York businesses received STEP grants; that dropped to 18 businesses in 2013 and bounced back up to 91 the following year.

In Round 4, which concluded Sept. 29, more than 120 New York businesses received funds to participate in “155 trade activities,” according to ESD.

Round 5 funding will be doled out by Global NY on a first-come, first-served basis. Events to be covered by the 2016 stipend – including participation in U.S. Department of Commerce Gold Key services, which include foreign travel, briefings at U.S. embassies and prequalified sales meetings – must be completed by Sept. 29, 2017.

Global NY will give special consideration to applications stemming from certified Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprises and to businesses representing the state’s top strategic-manufacturing industries, including aerospace, biotech, renewable energy and nanotechnology, among others.

Global NY – which disburses roughly $2 million in annual loans and grants, including its participation in the STEP program – offers funding on various levels for companies in different stages. Loans of up to $500,000 are available for companies looking to purchase export-related equipment and inventory; interest-free loans of up to $50,000 are available for companies working to promote New York-produced distilled and fermented beverages on a global scale; there are also grants of up to $25,000 to help companies initially exploring exporting opportunities.

Assisting state-based programs like Global NY is the what the STEP effort is all about, according to SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet.

“Two-thirds of the world’s purchasing power can be found outside of the United States, but only about 1 percent of America’s 28 million small businesses are reaching customers beyond our borders,” Contreras-Sweet said. “Exporting is an important growth opportunity for our small businesses that are ready to expand their reach into new and increasingly borderless global markets.”