FRANKFORT, Ky. (May 3, 2023) – Today, Gov. Andy Beshear highlighted Kentucky’s State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) to kick off the 2023 World Trade Month and Export Week.
Export Week is a U.S. Commercial Service-led multifaceted program designed to advise and educate U.S. companies about market opportunities and tradecraft skills. It runs from May 1 to 5 and is part of World Trade Month, which serves as an opportunity to recognize the importance of exporting to the U.S. economy and encourages businesses to begin or expand their export efforts.
“Kentucky’s rising economic fortunes are tied to our ability to connect with and grow our international and foreign investment and export partners,” Gov. Beshear said. “Growing that international element of Kentucky’s economy while creating opportunities for our small- and medium-sized businesses is crucial for our long-term economic success. Empowering Kentucky companies to access international markets is a big win for our state, as well as the families and communities these companies support.”
Through awards to U.S. states and territories, STEP has helped thousands of small businesses overcome obstacles to exporting by providing grants to cover costs associated with entering and expanding into international markets since 2011.
The Kentucky STEP grant program is a partnership between the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development to provide financial awards to assist Kentucky small businesses with export development. The Kentucky STEP grant assists existing, successful Kentucky-based businesses with their new-to-exporting and market expansion plans to sell their products into international markets by reimbursing them up to $10,000 for participation in export development activities.
“The STEP grant in Kentucky, offered in partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration, has helped so many exceptional Kentucky companies to learn about exporting and to introduce their unique products to the world,” said Monique Kuykendoll Quarterman, executive director of KY Innovation. “In addition to growing the number of accessible markets of these Kentucky companies, we are promoting the excellence of Kentucky craftsmanship, service and manufacturing to a global audience.”
Since its inception in 2011, over 260 Kentucky small businesses have used STEP funds directly, receiving nearly $3 million in reimbursements. STEP applicants come from 51 of Kentucky’s 120 counties, with a goal to have a STEP company in every county within the next five years. This year’s participating STEP Year 10 businesses are located in 21 Kentucky counties: Ballard, Bath, Bourbon, Calloway, Campbell, Christian, Clark, Fayette, Garrard, Hardin, Hart, Henry, Jefferson, Jessamine, Kenton, Madison, McCracken, Nelson, Pike, Pulaski and Woodford.
Tyler Deeb, owner of Louisville-based Misc. Goods Co., which makes boutique fragrances and home and gift items such as custom designed playing cards and leather wallets, noted the opportunities that the STEP grant funding has brought to his business.
“The STEP grant has been instrumental in helping our business thrive,” said Deeb. “Though we make most of our products right here in Louisville, most of our customers are outside of Kentucky. Money from the STEP program has helped fund our participation in important trade shows where we’re able to connect with our customers and retail partners from all over the world. Our goods are now carried in 10 countries outside the U.S. Many of those connections would not have happened if we had not been able to be in New York or Atlanta or Tokyo to meet the retail buyers and store owners and help them discover and fall in love with our products.”
Kentucky’s international presence includes more than 500 facilities that employ almost 115,000 people and represent 33 different countries. Under the leadership of Gov. Beshear, foreign direct investment (FDI) has contributed to over 170 new projects announced totaling $13.5 billion in direct investment and creating over 15,600 full-time jobs.
In 2022, Kentucky’s total exports to all countries surpassed $34.4 billion, a 16.5% increase over 2021. The commonwealth’s top five exports included aerospace products and parts; pharmaceuticals and medicines; motor vehicles; resin, synthetic rubber, fibers and filament; and computer equipment. The top five export destinations were Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, China and France.
Kentucky’s rapidly growing international presence helps to further recent economic momentum in the commonwealth, as the state builds back stronger from the effects of the pandemic.
Since the beginning of his administration, Gov. Beshear has announced the creation of 44,800 full-time jobs and 846 private-sector new-location and expansion projects totaling $25.8 billion in announced investments.
The Governor has now secured the best two-year period in state history for economic growth.
In 2021, the commonwealth shattered every economic development record in the books. Private-sector new-location and expansion announcements included a record $11.2 billion in total planned investment and commitments to create a record 18,000-plus full-time jobs across the coming years.
That momentum continued strongly into 2022 with 248 new-location and expansion announcements totaling 16,000 full-time jobs behind nearly $10.5 billion in new investment.
The robust job creation has been accompanied by rising wages across the commonwealth. The average incentivized hourly wage in 2022 was $26.78 before benefits, the second-highest mark since 2010 and an 11.5% increase over the previous year.
Gov. Beshear also announced the two largest economic development projects in state history. In September 2021, Gov. Beshear and leaders from Ford Motor Co. and SK Innovation celebrated a transformative $5.8 billion investment that will create 5,000 jobs in Hardin County. And in April 2022, the Governor was joined by leadership at Envision AESC to announce a $2 billion investment that will create 2,000 jobs in Warren County. These announcements solidify Kentucky as the EV battery production capital of the United States.
Kentucky’s success has been noted by both S&P Global Ratings and Fitch Ratings, which have upgraded the state’s financial outlook to positive in recognition of the commonwealth’s surging economy.
Site Selection magazine placed Kentucky second nationwide and first in the South Central region for its annual Governor’s Cup ranking for 2022, which recognizes state-level economic success based on capital investments.
Gov. Beshear’s administration is projected to post the four highest years of budget surpluses in Kentucky history, and the state’s rainy-day fund has a record balance of $2.7 billion.
Gov. Beshear recently announced a new “Supply Kentucky” initiative with the goal of boosting job growth, reducing costs and providing more security in the supply chains of our Kentucky companies.
The Governor also recently announced that Kentucky set the record for the longest period with the lowest unemployment rates in state history. Over the past 15 months, the rate has been between 3.8%, the lowest rate ever recorded, and 4%, marking the longest period with the lowest unemployment rates in state history. Kentucky has now achieved a 3.8% unemployment rate during four months since the beginning of 2022.
For more information or to apply for STEP funding, visit kyexports.com/step-grant. Email completed applications to STEP Program Manager Mary NeCamp at firstname.lastname@example.org.