Think of exports and Maryland, and it might bring to mind goods on a big ship, bound for a faraway shore. After all, Baltimore’s port is long-held cornerstone of the city’s image, and continues to be busy.
But in an economy that is increasingly powered by digital tools, the idea of an export goes wider.
“What defines an export is if you have a foreign buyer,” said Jessica Reynolds, senior director of the Maryland Department of Commerce’s Office of International Investment and Trade.
That means products count, but also services. If a client is paying money, it means money is coming to the U.S. So, the business providing the service is an exporter.
It can also expand how a company thinks about its market. With a digital presence, potential buyers from around the globe can find a business and take a look at its offerings.
“Once you have a website, you’re an international company,” Reynolds said. “Anyone can find you and order from you. If you’re willing to fulfill those orders, you’re an exporter.” That’s even true if it goes to Canada.
This framework can come in handy when considering a grant program offered through the state commerce department: ExportMD provides $5,000 grants to help offset the cost of international marketing for small businesses. Funds are provided via an agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration’s State Trade Expansion Program.
Often, these funds are used by companies to offset travel expenses for international trade shows and other types of projects to get the word out in another country. But like so much else, that has shifted with the pandemic. The spread of COVID-19 around the globe to the U.S. in March 2020 stopped international travel, and it remains grounded nearly a year later. With the trade show calendar canceled like so many other events, it significantly slowed ExportMD grant activity through the fall of 2020.
However, there are still funds available from 2020, and there has been an additional award to the state for 2021. So the commerce department has more funding available than usual for awards, and it expires in September of this year. Typically, the department issues about 80 grants a year.
“Right now, in the next few months, we’re looking to issue 60 to 65 of these grants,” Reynolds said.
And it won’t require travel plans. For one, as trade shows have gone virtual, the grant could still cover the registration fees for an international confab. Owing to the pandemic, the SBA has also expanded the kinds of costs that the funds can cover. It means plenty of digital initiatives are covered, like website development, marketing media design, hosting an ecommerce platform or fees for an online market listing.
With vaccination underway, Reynolds said she is also encouraging businesses to “use some of that time to be fully prepared to be that much stronger for exporting when you get back out there in person.” To that end, the grant could cover a cost like a subscription to an export research tool. It can also cover fees for shipping sample products or compliance testing.
For more info on the grant, visit the Maryland Department of Commerce’s website.