Giant STEP for Geoshield

Famously hot, the Middle East marks an important sales territory for Geoshield LLC, a Louisiana-based maker of window coatings. Geoshield products reduce heat inside cars and buildings through sophisticated ceramics-based technology.

In early 2012, a Louisiana initiative to boost small business exports allowed Geoshield’s owners to do what they had never done in years of working in the Middle East: Meet their dealers in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and other nations.

But the weeklong trip wasn’t just about making face-to-face connections with faraway clients for Geoshield’s window products. The trip resulted in renewal of a 5-year, $1 million-plus deal for Geoshield. Through LED’s State Trade and Export Promotion program, or STEP, the company will be reimbursed $4,000 in trip-related expenses.

“If LED hadn’t provided us (with support), we wouldn’t have gone,” said Burns Mulhearn, Geoshield’s president.

Louisiana’s exports surged 33 percent in 2011 to a record of $55 billion, according to the World Trade Center of New Orleans. Exports to China expanded 13 percent last year, while those to Mexico doubled, according to center data.  Experts cite the reach and efficiency of Louisiana’s infrastructure assets, including its interstate and port system, as factors behind surging export growth.

LED’s newly launched STEP initiative helps small firms capture a bigger share of Louisiana’s export momentum by providing them with better access to foreign markets.

The U.S. Small Business Administration-funded program provides reimbursement for export-related activities, including overseas travel, website-translation services, design of international marketing materials, and trade show booth fees.

Expanding exports to China is a key priority of the program, and STEP provides a higher tier of reimbursement – up to $9,000 – for qualified small companies looking to begin or expand exports there, said Larry Collins, LED director of international services. Export-related travel and expenditures in other foreign markets are reimbursed in the range of $5,000 to $6,000, Collins said.

LED works with Small Business Development Centers around the state to identify companies that meet STEP requirements, which include being in operation at least one year and operating at a profit.

Since launching in January 2012, the program has seen 50 Louisiana small companies qualify for participation, said Bill Fousch, LED international project manager.

Those companies represent a spectrum of industries, from seafood producers to medical device makers, a motorcycle parts manufacturer and dredging companies, Fousch said. Small Louisiana firms are successfully using STEP to gauge export markets, including China.

Nearly 200 small companies have received education about exports and how to finance international trade because of the STEP initiative. “It’s across the board,” Fousch said.