EDPNC Supports Exporters Shifting to Virtual Trade Shows During COVID-19

August 5, 2020

RALEIGH ― The Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina now has substantial grant resources to help small businesses exhibit in virtual international trade shows at a time when COVID-19 has shut down in-person events and caused many countries to restrict U.S. travelers.

“Trade events remain essential to generating new sales leads in markets around the world,” said Mike Hubbard, EDPNC director of international trade. “During a pandemic, North Carolina exporters still need to find ways to exhibit their products and connect with new customers and distributors around the world.”

For the first time, the U.S. Small Business Administration has made participating in virtual international trade shows or missions eligible for federal State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) grants.

In North Carolina, the EDPNC administers the grants that help small businesses ― defined as having 500 or fewer employees ― afford booth registration, air travel, lodging and marketing material translation associated with international trade shows.

The pandemic has prompted the U.S. Small Business Administration to open up grants to support business participation in virtual international trade shows and missions. Previously, grants supported only in-person events.

The virtual trade show format typically includes a booth fee, utilizes a webinar platform, allows for three to four booth discussions simultaneously with visitors, accommodates both scheduled meetings and drop-ins, and provides for product demonstrations.

A recent Exhibitor Media Group survey found 45% of corporate exhibit managers have either participated or plan to participate in a virtual trade show, said Paul Grossman Jr., U.S. director of OCO Global, an international trade and investment consulting firm based in Ireland.

“Only 7% of exhibit managers and 9% of vendors and suppliers to trade shows expect trade show activity will return to normal by the end of 2020. Most expect that to happen in the first half of 2021,” he said.

Grossman, who recently presented the EDPNC webinar “Doing International Business Virtually,” said conducting international business online is often more efficient, effective, and affordable than in-person. So he expects virtual trade shows to remain a fixture even after the pandemic ends.

“Getting on a plane to meet with potential partners, distributors, or representatives overseas is expensive,” Grossman said. “Also, virtually you can have face time with an executive that you may not have had even if you traveled to a foreign country.”

“We’re now seeing that a company’s investment in exhibiting in a virtual trade show is about 20 to 25 percent of what would be spent on a traditional trade show,” Grossman added. “But that could change in six months.”

The STEP program can now reimburse a small business up to $5,000 for registering a virtual booth in an online international trade show and up to $6,000 for related foreign-language translation of marketing materials. While few in-person trade shows are currently being held, STEP continues to provide grants for exhibiting at those events.

Businesses interested in applying for STEP grants to participate in international trade shows should email the EDPNC international trade division at ITD@edpnc.com. Grants are also available to help businesses translate and search-engine optimize their websites to better generate sales leads in target markets around the world.

Need insights on how to succeed at a virtual international trade event? Click here to view the EDPNC’s July 21 EDPNC webinar, “Doing International Business Virtually,” featuring consultant Paul Grossman Jr.

MEDIA CONTACT: Mary Wilson, EDPNC communications manager
PHONE: (919) 447-7784
EMAIL: Mary.Wilson@edpnc.com