Economic Development and Government

Grant helps pay for export growth

STEP program working well in West Michigan.

December 8, 2012
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LANSING — Michigan has received the second-largest amount of federal funding through the State Trade and Export Promotion program to help small to medium-sized businesses increase exporting by promoting activities like trade shows and missions.

The Michigan Economic Development Corp. will use its $2.1 million grant to help businesses focus on exporting by incorporating a strategic plan and activities like trade shows and website language translation.

Chuck Hadden, president of the Michigan Manufacturers Association, said of exporting, “We cannot do a lot besides encourage and train our members, most of which happens at the federal level.”

He said machine-manufacturing companies represent 71 of 132 companies in the program.

The federal grant is $600,000 more than last year’s.

The U.S. Small Business Administration launched the program that started in Michigan in October 2011. It reimburses the cost of approved activities that support its export strategy.

Sonja Johnson, executive director of Van Andel Global Trade Center at Grand Valley State University, said the center has always offered export and import assistance, along with ongoing training and consulting.

For example, the center’s international trade manager accompanied Gov. Rick Snyder on a trade mission to Canada, along with Deanna Richeson, the director of exports for the MEDC.

“We don’t want to overlook that nearby friend and we want to strengthen trade with Canada,” Richeson said of Michigan’s leading export partner.

Johnson said there are other programs like the Foreign Trade Zone program across the U.S. that help businesses import raw materials.

“Hopefully, this will add value in the state of Michigan by allowing businesses to ship out of the Foreign Trade Zone without having to pay customs. The STEP program complements what is already being done, but it is nice to be reimbursed in dollars back into the businesses through the federal program,” she said.

Johnson said every participating company in her region has received its reimbursements and the program allows them to fine-tune their export strategy. “The trade centers we’ve worked with in the past decade have weathered the economic storm very well because they were diversified in the global marketplace.”

She said STEP will have a positive effect on the region, but how quickly that impact will be evident is yet to be seen.

Programs like STEP give the needed stability for small businesses, she said.

“Because it is on the state’s radar, businesses across the state will more likely benefit from this investment,” Johnson said.

Laura Deierlein is an MEDC international trade manager based at the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce. She said MEDC is reaching out through economic developers, universities and others to expand the network. Local outreach seminars, social media and program information in e-newsletters are some ways the MEDC encourages companies to apply for the program.

Johnson said part of the program is presenting an export strategy and business plan for growth that will strengthen businesses that participate.

“Some companies are not even ready for the financial reimbursement piece, but want help with their export strategy,” Deierlein said.

Pennsylvania received the largest federal grant this year, Hadden said.

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