Companies that exhibit in international trade shows are likely to find new buyers for their products, but the cost of heading far north, south or overseas is often a barrier for smaller businesses. That’s where we come in. The Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina’s International Trade Division can help businesses tap federal funds currently set aside to reimburse travel costs to international trade shows — but only if they act now.

The funds are available through the federal State Trade Expansion Program (STEP), which is administered by EDPNC and funded through the U.S. Small Business Administration.

STEP offers eligible companies up to $3,500 for airfare and lodging expenses related to exhibiting at an international trade show. Participation in certain U.S. trade shows also qualifies for reimbursement. In addition, the program provides up to $2,000 for the translation of websites or marketing materials to promote products and services in foreign markets.

Under the 2016-17 funding cycle, companies must apply for travel funds by Sept. 29, and trade show travel must be completed by the same date. That’s a tight deadline, but it’s well worth the scramble.

Executives of Lenoir-based Aria Designs,  which was launched in 2011, found new business leads at the 2015 China International Furniture Expo in Shanghai. Pictured at the show from left: Robin Hoff, vice president of sales and marketing; Jeff Arditti, chief executive officer; and Ted Arditti, executive vice president. Photo courtesy of Aria Designs

Two years ago, STEP helped Lenoir-based Aria Designs participate in the China International Furniture Expo in Shanghai. There, the upholstery manufacturer began discussions to feature Aria Designs products in hundreds of retail stores in China. “We also expanded our global business to Russia, as well as Australia, at the September 2015 Shanghai show,” said Robin Hoff, Aria Designs’ vice president of sales and marketing.

And in September 2016, Charlotte-based Otto Environmental Systems North America used STEP funds for its first participation in Trade Winds ‒ Latin America, a U.S. Department of Commerce-sponsored forum consisting of trade mission stops in Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina and Mexico.

Otto, a manufacturer of plastic waste bins for residential and commercial use, met with potential foreign distributors and buyers pre-screened by Commerce to match the company’s products and services. The company closed a deal with a Peruvian distributor and “came back to North Carolina from the event with five very solid leads, not to mention more connections, more knowledge and more confidence in doing business in this area of the world,” said Travis Dowell, director of international sales.

Since the program started in 2011, STEP has assisted North Carolina companies more than 900 times. And there’s still room — and money — for more in the current funding year.

About the author: Mary Wilson is public relations and communications manager at the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina. 

Learn more about STEP eligibility requirements on our website, or contact EDPNC’s STEP manager, Jen Vogelsberg.