Eligible small businesses encouraged to apply now
FRANKFORT, Ky. (Sept. 21, 2022) – Today, Gov. Andy Beshear announced the continued support of small-business growth statewide as the U.S. Small Business Association (SBA) awarded the commonwealth $400,000 in State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) funds to help more companies export.
The grant program, which is marking its 10th anniversary of funding small business growth, provides companies with the information and tools needed to successfully sell their products and services worldwide.
“The STEP program has helped hundreds of Kentucky companies become exporters, which has boosted economic development across our state,” Gov. Beshear said. “We recognize that small and medium-size businesses are essential to the success of Kentucky’s economy. Gaining the resources to empower even more of our great companies to access international markets is a big win for Kentucky businesses, as well as the families and communities they support.”
Exporting activities supported by STEP funding include valuable training and workshops for export readiness, participation in trade missions with international audiences, foreign market sales trips, design of international marketing media and exhibiting at trade shows with international audiences, as well as other meaningful engagement outside the United States. Since inception in 2011, Kentucky STEP has awarded over $2.7 million to more than 230 businesses across the state. With 95% of the world’s consumers and two-thirds of all purchasing power located outside the United States, this grant program plays a critical role in providing access to capital, access to markets and access to buyers.
In Kentucky, STEP has served as a leading example of how a state can partner with companies to expand and enter new markets. Since the program was established, the commonwealth has established itself as a major player on the global stage. In 2021, Kentucky companies bounced back strong in response to the pandemic by exporting more than $29.5 billion in products worldwide.
“STEP is vital to helping for-profit Kentucky businesses that are ready to start exporting or are currently exporting,” said Mary NeCamp, Kentucky’s STEP director. “The program has allowed companies from across the commonwealth to successfully unlock international markets – and grow as a result. We look forward to working with a wide range of eligible businesses from all 120 counties to access this powerful resource. I encourage anyone interested in applying for STEP Year 10 to visit our website at kyexports.com for the application and other valuable sources of information for exporters.”
The commonwealth is home to more than 360,000 small businesses that employ 716,000 people. That represents approximately 99.3% of all companies in the state. Small businesses have made significant contributions to Kentucky’s record economic success, and STEP has taken that momentum to new heights.
The continued success of the program is reflected in Kentucky receiving awards in each of the last 10 cycles. Those resources have helped companies gain exposure on a global scale, while also raising awareness of Kentucky-made products.
“The STEP grant helped FeltLOOM Inc. do business in international markets,” said Lanette Freitag, president of FeltLOOM in Sharpsburg, which created an innovative solution for making nonwoven fabric. “It helped pay for our compliance testing to ship into foreign markets and raised awareness for our business opportunities that are available in the world. It has been important to our small company. We are currently sold into 21 countries.”
STEP is an SBA program administered in the commonwealth by the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development. Companies that meet the federally defined criteria of a small business and will export products that are at least 51% U.S. content could be eligible for a grant.
STEP also aligns with the Kentucky Export Initiative (KEI). Through KEI, the cabinet partners with a coalition of agencies and organizations to streamline and promotes the state’s efforts to help Kentucky businesses reach global markets.
The newly announced STEP funding builds on recent economic momentum in the commonwealth.
In 2021, the commonwealth shattered every economic development record in the books. Private-sector new-location and expansion announcements included a record $11.2 billion in total planned investment and commitments to create a record 18,000-plus full-time jobs across the coming years. Kentucky’s average incentivized hourly wage for projects statewide in 2021 was $24 before benefits, a 9.4% increase over the previous year.
In the past year, the Beshear administration announced the two largest economic development projects in state history. In September 2021, Gov. Beshear and leaders from Ford Motor Co. and SK Innovation celebrated a transformative $5.8 billion investment that will create 5,000 jobs in Hardin County. And in April of this year, the Governor was joined by leadership at Envision AESC to announce a $2 billion investment that will create 2,000 jobs in Warren County. These announcements solidify Kentucky as the EV battery production capital of the United States.
The economic momentum has carried strongly into 2022, with both S&P Global Ratings and Fitch Ratings upgrading Kentucky’s financial outlook to positive in recognition of the commonwealth’s surging economy.
And Site Selection magazine placed Kentucky at 6th in its annual Prosperity Cup rankings for 2022, which recognizes state-level economic success based on capital investments.
Kentucky has posted record low unemployment rates for four consecutive months, falling from 3.9% in April to 3.8% in May and 3.7% in June and July.
In July, the Governor reported the highest annual growth rate in 31 years. And for the second year in a row, Kentucky’s General Fund budget surplus has exceeded $1 billion. Also in July, Gov. Beshear reported that the state’s rainy day fund is up to a record balance of $2.7 billion, significantly higher than the $129 million balance the fund had when the Governor took office.
In September, Kentucky reported that August 2022 General Fund receipts hit an unprecedented high for any August on record, marking 21 straight months of growing revenues for the state.