Export DevelopmentSmall Business STEPs Into Foreign Markets With Grant Program

Gladtags, a manufacturing company in Louisiana, makes a niche product: scaffolding safety tags. The tags are required by Occupational Safety and Health Administration to denote whether a scaffold has passed inspection and is ready to use or is under construction. When business owner Buck Gladden realized that there were limited competitors making a similar, quality product in select overseas markets, he turned to Louisiana Economic Development for assistance.

Gladden found the help he needed through the State Trade and Export Promotion (STEP) Grant Initiative, a U.S. Small Business Administration program that provides financial awards to state and territorial governments to assist small businesses with export development. The program’s objectives include increasing the number of exporting U.S. small businesses, as well as increasing the value of their shipments. STEP is a competitive grant process and Louisiana has once again successfully submitted and secured grant money to support state business and industry in these efforts.

Manufacturing company Gladtags utilized the STEP program to break into the European market.

LED received $160,000 from the SBA for the 2016-17 grant cycle, earmarked for travel expenses for qualified small businesses. The program is offering travel expense reimbursements of up to 75 percent for new export companies and up to 50 percent for market expansion companies for total assistance of up to $2,500 per company for attending certain international trade shows. The events feature a broad array of industry sectors ranging from oil and gas and aerospace, to food and agriculture. In addition to this diverse mix of international shows, program participants are also eligible to participate in select domestic trade shows as a part of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Buyer Program (IBP). The IBP recruits pre-screened foreign buyer delegations and brings them to selected trade shows and conferences in the U.S., connecting American companies with international buyers.

“You may have a good product here in the U.S. and you believe there is an opportunity to sell overseas, but it can be daunting. However, this program offers support and makes it easier. It definitely worked for us.”Buck Gladden, Gladtags, Owner

LED found that most grant applicants in Louisiana utilize the funding to assist with travel to foreign countries for select meetings with interested parties or to attend specified trade events to develop connections with buyers, distributors, brokers and agents. Meeting face-to-face and gaining a direct understanding of the foreign business market is an invaluable first step to establishing long-term relationships.

“We found out about the STEP program and applied for a grant with the hopes of funding a trip to the UK,” Gladden said. “After being approved for the grant, we arranged a trip to London and used the city as a base to visit with representatives in England and Scotland. LED had a UK representative that lived in London and he was even gracious enough to drive us to the distributor meetings.”

That initial trip in 2012 yielded relationships with numerous distributors who are now committed to ordering twelve palettes of tags each year to serve customers in England and Scotland. Following his success in the European market, Gladden traveled to Trinidad and repeated the process establishing similar sales to meet the country’s growing scaffolding tag needs.

“With the success we’ve had with the STEP program, we definitely plan to apply for funding in the upcoming year,” stated Gladden. “In the past, we’ve set up specific meetings with reps prior to our travels. This year, I would be interested in attending some trade shows in other locations like Dubai or Germany.”

"You may have a good product here in the U.S. and you believe there is an opportunity to sell overseas, but it can be daunting,” explained Gladden. “However, this program offers support and makes it easier. It definitely worked for us.”

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