Economic program helps exports from small Missouri companies

The World

JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) — Imagine skate parks and ramps manufactured in Joplin, Missouri, being used throughout the Middle East, in such countries as the United Arab Emirates.

That’s a possibility after a state program persuaded American Ramp Co., one of the nation’s largest skate park and ramp manufacturers, to dream about the Middle East as a potential market.

The program, State Trade & Export Promotion, or STEP, is organized through the Missouri Department of Economic Development, The Joplin Globe reported (http://bit.ly/2nvKYms ).

STEP makes grants available to small and medium-sized Missouri companies that export or are considering exporting products to foreign countries. The program was established by the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010. The goal is to increase jobs and economic growth in Missouri, according to Department of Economic Development officials who visited Joplin last week to discuss STEP.

“We’re here to promote Missouri products and services globally,” said Doug Potts, a Department of Economic Development trade manager. “We’re here to increase the number of Missouri companies exporting, the value and volume of those exports, facilitate international business opportunities, and then very importantly also attract foreign investment to Missouri.”

The U.S. Small Business Administration in February announced Missouri would receive $634,000 for the program, which generally focuses on one part of the world for market development each year, Potts said. Middle Eastern countries, specifically the United Arab Emirates, are this year’s target.

Exporters with fewer than 500 employees and $50 million in annual sales are eligible but most of the recipients are far smaller operations, Potts said. The grant can cover several international export costs, including travel, lodging, marketing, market research and trade shows.

Brandon Robinson, a skatepark specialist at American Ramp, said the STEP program helped the company identify the Middle East as an untapped market and potential source of revenue. The company is planning to attend a trade show in Dubai.

“It’s hard to throw down the kind of money that is required for even that exploration, not knowing what you’re going to get back,” Robinson said. “So the STEP program is just a great way of kind of lessening the risk for us to make those explorations.”

Cardinal Scale Manufacturing Co., in Webb City, also uses the program. Cardinal Scale, which manufactures medical and industrial scales, exports products into more than 100 countries and uses STEP funds primarily for international marketing, said Fred Cox, vice president of sales.

STEP has allowed Cardinal Scale to have a presence at international trade shows because it helps with the expense of international travel and trade, Cox said.

“International business has been one of our growth aspects,” Cox said. “As the domestic markets mature, we want to expand out to other companies globally.”