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Export Promotion Grant brings millions in trade sales for Nebraska small businesses

Thanks to a grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration, a couple of small businesses in Nebraska received financial support to help market their goods and services internationally – resulting in millions in potential sales contracts.

The SBA provided $310,860 in State Trade and Export Promotion Program (STEP) grants to the Nebraska Department of Economic Development (DED) to help increase exporting by small businesses in 2012. The grants were authorized by the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010, which calls for doubling U.S. exports in five years – and in so doing, supporting two million jobs. The program provides federal government funding for 65 to 75 percent of program costs, with the state supplying the remainder.

Thurston Manufacturing connects in South America

In March, representatives from Thurston Manufacturing used a $5,000 grant to help offset costs to attend Expo Agro, a trade show in Junin, Argentina, followed by Exportivia in Mercedes, Uruguay.  The trip landed potential distributors for their BLU-JET fertilizer and tillage products.   Sales through these contracts, according to John Twyford, the company’s global trade and compliance, global logistics and projects manager, ranges around $1 million per distributor.

The company used another $5,000 grant in May to help cover costs of a trade show in South Africa which connected them with two new distributors, one in Bothaville and another in Capetown.

“In 18 months we’ll be in 15 countries,” Twyford said.

Since incorporating in 1971 from their location just southwest of Sioux City, Iowa, Thurston Manufacturing has become a leader in the manufacturing of farm equipment and side dump semi-trailers. They leveraged an SBA-guaranteed 7(a) loan for $750,000 in 1994 to help weather a downturn in the farm implement business.

Thurston Manufacturing welder.

Troy Kramer, a welder at Thurston Manufacturing.

As the producer of Circle R side dump trailers and BLU-JET fertilizer and tillage products, Thurston Manufacturing has seen tremendous growth within the last 24 months, from supplying family farms directly to reaching dealers and manufacturers who provide farmers with agricultural equipment. 

Over the past year, the small business has hired 14 additional people to help meet new product demand and serve existing customers, and have even taken to local radio stations to advertise their urgent need to fill nearly two dozen more jobs.

“You are not just a number on a card, you are a name and you have a life and they understand that,” said Troy Kramer, a welder at Thurston Manufacturing. 

Chilean miners could soon use equipment from Omaha

Another Nebraska company used funds from the STEP grant for an international mining trade show in Santiago, Chile, in April.  According to Dave Phillips, international sales manager for Elliott Equipment in Omaha, the grant helped cover the cost of airfare to the South American country.

For 60 years, Elliott Equipment has been a leading manufacturer of customizable truck-mounted hydraulic aerial work platforms and cranes designed for rugged and heavy-duty service work, including underground drilling. The SBA backed a $600,000 loan for the company in 1992; since then, they have been recognized as one of the top 20 fastest-growing companies in Omaha.  Today, they employ 120 people

During the Chilean trip, Phillips said, representatives from the company were welcomed into the homes of their potential partners, even dining with their families.

From left to right: Jim Glazer, President/CEO of Elliott Equipment Company; Jose Miguel Pena, Owner of Pesco S.A.; David Phillips, International Sales Manager of Elliott Equipment Company; Juan Eduardo Spoerer, Owner of Pesco S.A.

(From left to right) Jim Glazer, President/CEO of Elliott Equipment Company; Jose Miguel Pena, Owner of Pesco S.A.; David Phillips, International Sales Manager of Elliott Equipment Company; Juan Eduardo Spoerer, Owner of Pesco S.A.

“This grant helped make that face-to-face possible,” Phillips said.  “It’s how international business works.  We’re a small company, and without the grant, we wouldn’t have gone.”

As a result of the trip, Elliott Equipment already sold one Chilean firm a $230,000 aerial work platform to be delivered in November to demonstrate the potential of the company’s capabilities.  Phillips said if the demonstration effort goes well, there is a chance to sell as many as 50 to help replace the aging fleet of cranes currently doing work in a country recognized as a world leader in copper mining.

“It’s hard to say what this will mean for us,” Phillips said. “It could end up being half our business.” 

Exports driving business success in Cornhusker State

The State Trade and Export Promotion Program, authorized by the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010, is a 3-year pilot trade and export initiative to make matching-fund grants for states to assist small businesses to enter or increase the value of exports in the international marketplace.

Companies in Nebraska exported to more than 170 countries in 2011, selling goods and services in the amount of $7.6 billion, according to Lisa Tedesco, business opportunity specialist with the Nebraska District SBA Office.  

“With more small businesses in Nebraska looking to expand their business in markets, as some domestic markets remain flat, STEP funding provides a tremendous opportunity to kick start their plans into gear,”  Tedesco added.  “Just having a little money to travel and make those initial connections is sometimes all these businesses need to get the ball rolling. The SBA’s Office of International Trade has been diligent in implementing a plan to meet our goal of doubling exports by 2014. Creation of STEP funding, implementing more export outreach programs and bringing together SBA’s resource partners to offer more training and assistance to small businesses on creating exporting strategies will help us get there.”