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OP-ED: Export promotion grants just a 'STEP' away

By ,
Melanie Willoughby
Melanie Willoughby

Are you a small-business owner in New Jersey seeking to reach customers overseas? The New Jersey Business Action Center’s Office of Export Promotion can help.

Housed within the New Jersey Department of State, the New Jersey Business Action Center has been awarded $700,000 by the U.S. Small Business Administration’s State Trade Expansion Program to help small businesses gain access to foreign markets.

The program, which is funded in part through a grant from the SBA, is available to eligible small businesses on a first-come, first-served, competitively awarded basis.

Now in its sixth year, NJSTEP has helped businesses like Messinas reach new markets around the world. This Warren County-based father-and-son business is a lawn and garden products manufacturer of products such as animal repellents, fertilizers and weed killer. Using NJSTEP funds, the company was able to attend the 2018 AgraME trade show in Dubai, resulting in connections to potential buyers in Africa and the Middle East.

“Anytime you can reduce your barriers to entry, especially as it pertains to foreign markets, it can only improve your ability to land accounts and increase business,” says James Messina, co-founder and vice president of Messinas. “The STEP grant allows serious small companies to compete with the marketing budgets of larger companies who take things like a trade show budget for granted.”

Another recipient of a NJSTEP financial award is VectraCor, a Totowa-based medical device company that develops disruptive, cardiac early detection technology. The funds paved the way for VectraCor President and CEO Brad Schreck to finalize the company’s first European distribution deal.

“This program helped us out tremendously,” says Schreck. “We are in the process of closing our first European distributor from a previous show thanks to the program.”

NJSTEP financial awards can be applied to export-related activities, including participation in trade missions organized by the Department of Commerce; internationally focused trade shows; and fees for services provided by the U.S. Commercial Service. Other activities that qualify include foreign-language translation for website and marketing material and export training workshops.

New Jersey currently ranks sixth in the nation in the number of small exporters and has a diverse small-business community that serves as a consistent engine for the state’s economy. More than 18,500 New Jersey small businesses currently sell products in foreign markets, which contributed to New Jersey’s $34.5 billion of overall global sales in 2017. Funds from the NJSTEP program will help small businesses grow in markets around the world and improve their bottom lines here at home in the Garden State.

The Office of Export Promotion is now accepting NJSTEP applications from New Jersey small businesses on a first come, first served, competitively awarded basis. The application and related forms can be found at: https://www.nj.gov/state/bac-njstep.shtml.

Melanie Willoughby is executive director of the New Jersey Business Action Center.

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