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I was in recently in Chicago to participate in a small business roundtable with members of the President’s Export Council (PEC). We had some great views – from the offices of our host, PEC member Glenn Tilton, and from the nineteen small and medium-sized businesses that shared their exporting experiences and challenges with the panel. Exporting is an essential business tool, and we’ve seen that businesses that export generally have weathered the economic recession better than those that do not. Ninety-five percent of the world’s potential consumers are outside the United States, so making the business decision to export can have a transformational effect on sales and growth. But exporting can seem complicated, especially for smaller firms. We heard about a lot of challenges, ranging from difficulty accessing financing; trouble finding skilled workers; and lack of information about foreign markets; to the high cost of establishing a physical presence in foreign countries.
This was important for the President’s Export Council members to hear, because they are in a position to help. The Council makes recommendations to the President for programs and policies that make it easier to export. More exports means more production, and more production means more jobs.
Greater cooperation and coordination with state and local governments is also making it easier for small businesses to learn the nuts and bolts of exporting. We were joined by Governor Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who are both doing great things to get Chicago businesses into the international marketplace. The State of Illinois has used State Trade and Export Promotion (STEP) grants from the U.S. Small Business Administration to undertake trade missions and help small businesses participate in foreign trade shows. One of the roundtable participants, Marty Wiegel of Wiegel Tool Works, Inc. had just returned from participating in Hannover Messe, the world’s largest industrial trade show, with STEP grant support.
As we move into the third year of the National Export Initiative, I am encouraged by the progress U.S. businesses have made to keep us on track to double exports in five years. But I am also eager to hear more from small businesses about what we can do across government to ensure everyone reaches their exporting potential.