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From Boise to Moscow: The STEP Program Builds Bridges of Success throughout the World

From Boise to Moscow: The STEP Program Builds Bridges of Success throughout the World

Published: May 19, 2014 Updated: July 20, 2016

Addressing the criticality of U.S. exports, President Obama said, "The global economy is more integrated than ever... If we're going to grow, it's going to be because of exports." As the world's economic landscape expands at an unprecedented rate and burgeoning foreign markets seek U.S. products and services, it is vital that American small businesses recognize and leverage the endless export opportunities around the world.

Simply put, exports fuel our economy. Since 2009:

  • exports have driven nearly half of the economic growth and account for nearly 14 percent of the U.S. economy
  • U.S. businesses are able to grow faster, hire more employees, pay higher wages, and help spread American ideas, innovation and values.

Unfortunately, only a small fraction of U.S. businesses currently export and 58 percent of those businesses only export to one country. In response to this missed opportunity, the President established the National Export Initiative (NEI) to promote U.S. exports and the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 established the pilot State Trade and Export Promotion (STEP) Grant Program to provide effective opportunities to increase the number of small business exporters and increase their exports. The U.S. Small Business Administration's Office of International Trade (OIT) has just launched the third year of this pilot program.

The OIT's has produced significant results. In November 2013, the Governor of Idaho, along with representatives from 17 Idaho businesses, over half of which were small businesses, flew to the Russian Federation. Governor "Butch" Otter and his peers arrived in Moscow for a nine-day trade mission involving a variety of industries including potato machinery and storage equipment, animal feed, peas/lentils/chickpeas, live cattle, timber and international education.

The Governor and his fellow Idahoans journeyed halfway around the world in pursuit of the abundant economic opportunities offered in the former Soviet Union. The Russian Federation has the world's 11th largest economy, and, with over 140 million consumers, Russia continues to be one of the most promising markets for U.S. exporters. In fact, Russia is one of Idaho's top ten export markets for agricultural products. Idaho has experienced the appreciable benefits of expanding exports outside of our nation's borders. In 2012, Idaho exported $21 million worth of goods to Russia, up 17 percent from the previous year.

Opportunities for small businesses to establish or to bolster export partnerships, such as the Idaho Trade Mission, are made possible through grants funded by the STEP Program. This Program can award grants to the 50 states, District of Columbia, Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa or Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands for increasing the number of small business exporters and their export sales.

In 2014, the STEP Program will award $8 million to:

  • advance small business participation in foreign trade missions and market sales trips
  • subscription to services provided by the Department of Commerce
  • design of international marketing products and campaigns
  • representation at export trade show exhibits
  • export related training, and other endeavors aligned with the STEP Program goals.

The STEP grant award amounts vary based on an awardee's approved project plan and budget. The results of these investments are substantial in a world that is becoming more and more interconnected. The state recipients of the STEP Program's second year awards reported a return on Federal investment of over seventeen-to-one. Beginning its third year, the STEP Program will continue to actively foster export opportunities for small businesses by providing them with support to succeed in international exports.

Small businesses are a model for success in U.S. exports. In 2011, nearly 300,000 U.S. small businesses exported goods, accounting for 98 percent of all identified exporters. Sales of American products and services to those outside of our borders not only fuels the economy and creates jobs and higher wages in the United States, but it also builds bridges for the exchange of ideas, cultures, and values with other communities around the world.

SBA's STEP Program is instrumental in helping U.S. small businesses build their bridges of success throughout the world.

For more information on the STEP Program, visit

About the Author:

Luz Hopewell
Deputy Associate Administrator for International Trade