Cantwell, Risch Announce Bipartisan Effort to Boost Small Business Exports, Create Jobs

Top Democrat and Republican on Senate Small Business Committee hear from local businesses on Inland Northwest exports

SPOKANE, WA – Today, U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Jim Risch (R-ID) 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 back in the United States. Cantwell and Risch serve as the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee. This will be their first bill together since Cantwell became Chairwoman in February.

The Cantwell-Risch 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. Cantwell and Risch will make improvements to the program based on lessons learned from participating companies.

Both Washington state and Idaho are in the top 10 nationally for return on investment in the STEP program. 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.

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.

“Here in the Pacific Northwest, we know that exports are crucial to our economy,” Cantwell said. “The STEP program is a critical tool for small companies to increase exports in a growing global marketplace. That’s where job growth and job creation is going to take place. I’m honored to work with my Northwest colleague, Sen. Risch, on this bipartisan effort to support small businesses and entrepreneurs and build on the STEP program’s successes.”

“With the global marketplace becoming more competitive every day it is increasingly important for American small businesses to be able to compete,” Risch said.  “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.”

Cantwell and Risch 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 Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho small businesses that have used SBA programs to export products made in the Inland Northwest.

During the roundtable, Cantwell and Risch heard from businesses about their successes and challenges in using the STEP program – feedback that they will incorporate into future legislation. They also heard from other export leaders, including Spokane’s U.S. Export Assistance Centers (USEAC), Washington Small Business Development Center, the Idaho Small Business Development Center, the Washington state Department of Commerce and Greater Spokane Incorporated.

Cantwell and Risch 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, Cantwell and Risch 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.

Cantwell has been meeting with businesses statewide as part of her “Listening Tour on Small Business Job Creation.”