Expanding global access for small biz

Too often, the challenges and uncertainties of exporting keep small-business owners from reaching the 95 percent of potential customers who live beyond America’s borders. Fortunately, there is a proven way to break down those barriers: the Export-Import Bank (or Ex-Im), the Small Business Administration and the Department of Commerce have many tools available that can boost sales, promote economic growth and spur job creation. These are the types of programs we need to continue supporting for American job growth.

Four years ago this week, on a cold January morning in Portsmouth, N.H., we joined together with a contingent of small-business owners, local bank officers, the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and state and federal officials to convene the first-ever Global Access for Small Business forum. It was a chance for New Hampshire entrepreneurs to learn how exporting can stimulate their businesses to expand and create more jobs. At that forum, we introduced New Hampshire small-business owners to some of the lesser-known federal resources that can make the daunting but exciting prospect of exporting simpler and safer.

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In the four years since, we’ve seen remarkable results. One of the small-business owners who joined us in Portsmouth was Mike Boyle, a Navy veteran who had turned his experience maintaining boilers on American fighting vessels into Boyle Energy Services & Technology, a small energy firm. Mike and his team developed a groundbreaking idea they called Sigma Commissioning, a technology that has enabled them to service power plants in a way that improves efficiency while slashing costs, carbon emissions and hazardous waste. With U.S. customers scarce, Mike and his team knew they needed to pursue sales overseas. The only problem was they couldn’t secure the private financing necessary to compete.

Once Mike learned about the availability of working capital loans from Ex-Im, he gained the confidence and capacity he needed to bring Sigma Commissioning to customers in global markets while keeping the lights on (and his employees paid) back in New Hampshire. He’s been successful ever since.

A decade ago, exports made up about 5 percent of Mike’s sales — today, that number is nearly 90 percent. He has now taken on more than 400 projects in 28 countries, doubled revenue twice since working with Ex-Im and turned his sales growth into new jobs in New Hampshire. In fact, Boyle Energy Services & Technology has gone from a dozen employees to more than 50. Ex-Im equipped Mike to bring his team’s innovative services to bear in the global market so that they could compete — and win — on their own merits.

Since that first morning in Portsmouth, Ex-Im has hosted more than 75 Global Access forums in communities across the nation, educating thousands of small-business owners about the benefits of exporting. Ex-Im has also completed more than 12,000 financing authorizations for U.S. small businesses over that time, supporting nearly $50 billion worth of exports and well over 100,000 American small-business jobs.

This initiative was created to empower small-business owners in every state to write their own stories of global success — and, from Portsmouth to Honolulu, entrepreneurs have taken the information they received at these forums and converted it into export-fueled growth, gaining access to distant markets, bringing made-in-America products to new customers overseas and adding more good-paying jobs in their hometowns. With Global Access forums, small businesses get the tools that can empower them to boost their sales abroad and add quality jobs back at home.

As these forums enter their fifth year, we hope that even more communities — and the folks who represent them — will follow New Hampshire’s lead by bringing the information, resources and bipartisan message of export-fueled growth to small businesses across the country. As American exports grow, the possibilities for job creation are endless. 

Hochberg is chairman and president of the Export-Import Bank. Shaheen is New Hampshire’s senior senator, serving since 2009. She sits on the Appropriations; Armed Services; Foreign Relations; and Small Business and Entrepreneurship committees. If you’re interested in hosting a Global Access Forum in your community, you can contact Ex-Im at ocia@exim.gov.