Empowering Small Business to Grow Our Economy Through Exports

(Photo: National Small Business Association)

By Rep. Cheri Bustos (IL-17) and Gabe Horwitz

For a multinational corporation with a boardroom full of lawyers and thousands of employees, exporting products is something they do every day.

But for a small business owner or startup entrepreneur in Rockford, Galesburg, or Peoria, navigating the global economic playing field isn’t so easy.

Opportunities are out there — and they are growing fast — but the prospect of trying to enter a foreign market can be daunting, especially for a small or medium-sized business.

How does one find customers in a country they’ve never been to? How can one be sure that shipments reach the customer? Do both outer and inner packaging labels need to be reprinted in the local language?

For a small business with only a handful of employees, these questions can be a real barrier.

That’s why I introduced the Boosting America’s Exports (BAE) Act, which was strongly endorsed by the think tank, Third Way. This legislation instructs federal agencies like the Commercial Service and their Export Assistance Centers — which assist businesses looking to export — to identify and conduct outreach to small and medium-sized companies that are not currently exporting but have the potential to sell their products overseas.

These Export Assistance Centers provide a variety of services to American businesses, from conducting market research to arranging meetings with potential customers.

Let’s look at the example of Shank’s Veterinary Equipment — the Milledgeville, Illinois-based, leading manufacturer of large animal surgery tables. Their connection with a local Export Assistance Center resulted in real and tangible growth, and today, Shank’s has exported equipment to over 30 countries around the world.

But for every small business tapping into these resources, many more don’t even know they exist.

Today, reports show that tens of thousands of American businesses never get the help needed to expand into new markets.

That’s why the BAE Act requires the Commercial Service to start measuring and reporting efforts to connect with more small businesses nationwide. The legislation also gives additional resources to the agency to hire more staff at Export Assistance Centers so they can identify even more small businesses with the potential to grow our economy by exporting products.

We already know that small businesses create two out of every three new jobs, and by building a business climate that helps them grow and compete across the globe, we’ll strengthen working families across our nation.

Representative Cheri Bustos is the representative for Illinois 17th District and Gabe Horwitz is Vice President for Economic Policy at Third Way, a Washington think tank.