Podcast: World Trade Center Utah STEP Grants

Pete CodellaBusiness Elevated Podcast


Business Elevated Podcast (Episode 44)

This podcast series features business and government leaders discussing what it’s like to live and work in the great state of Utah.This episode includes a conversation between Pete Codella, GOED’s director of marketing and communications, and Nicole Sherwood, director of grants and operations, and STEP project director at World Trade Center Utah.

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Welcome to the Business Elevated Podcast, where we discuss what it’s like to live and work in the great state of Utah. Did you know Utah is frequently ranked the best state for business by Forbes? This podcast is a production of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Thanks for joining the conversation.


Nicole Sherwood
Pete Codella

Pete Codella: (0:21) Welcome to the Business Elevated podcast. My name is Pete Codella, and I’m the director of marketing and communications in the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development, which is known as GOED. And my guest today is Nicole Sherwood. She’s the director of grants and operations and the STEP project director at World Trade Center Utah. Nicole, welcome to the podcast.

Nicole Sherwood: (0:46) I’m excited to be here today and thank you so much for having me on today’s Business Elevated podcast. 

Pete Codella: (0:55) Absolutely. We’ve got a cool topic to cover today. Before we get to it, why don’t you share with us what brought you to World Trade Center Utah? 

Nicole Sherwood: (1:03) Sure. I was born and raised and grew up in Sandy, Utah. Before joining World Trade Center Utah, I worked for the state as a budget and policy analyst under Gov. Huntsman and Gov. Herbert. However, I’ve always had an interest in international trade, and I joined World Trade Center Utah almost three years ago to the day. It has been a very exciting ride. 

Pete Codella: (1:33) Happy anniversary at World Trade Center. And yeah, especially this past year has been a pretty wild ride for all of us. World Trade Center Utah acts as the economic international outreach arm for the state of Utah.

And, you guys share office space with GOED. We just worked down the hall from each other. Interestingly, it’s apparent we can’t talk about Utah business without also talking about international business. How much of an impact does international business have on Utah’s local economy?

Nicole Sherwood: (2:07) International business has a huge impact. Nearly one in four Utah jobs are tied to international trade and investment. What’s more interesting is that 85% of Utah’s exports are small businesses and international sales add $5 billion across the state in additional revenue for these small business exporters.

Pete Codella: (2:33) Utah business is driven by our small businesses. They comprise a large amount of workforce in the state. Nicole, how does World Trade Center Utah help Utah businesses, especially these small businesses compete and succeed internationally? 

Nicole Sherwood: (2:52) That’s a great question. At World Trade Center Utah, we offer multiple free services, and these include export training, international matchmaking. And we offer free market research, webinars, different events and virtual trade missions. We just completed one to Canada, and we also administer the STEP grant. The STEP grant is funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. 

Pete Codella: (3:27) Cool. Did you ever think you’d be doing so many virtual trade missions?

Nicole Sherwood: (3:33) That has been a new thing for World Trade Center Utah, but it’s great. As travel has been restricted at this time, it’s great. To be able to connect our companies with those international markets still. As I mentioned, there was one to Canada that we did as well as earlier in the summer. We did one to Israel, and that focused on our aerospace and defense industry. It’s good to be able to still connect until we can travel again.

Pete Codella: (4:08) That’s an excellent point. Utah is open for business, and unlike everyone else, we’re figuring out how to do things while we endure global pandemics. Those virtual events are really helpful.

Nicole, tell us more about the STEP grant. I hear that today’s a really big day for Utah companies who are currently exporting and for those who might be ready to begin exploring international opportunities. 

Nicole Sherwood: (4:35) Correct. As of this morning, October 5th, 2020, we are opening up our STEP grant application for the coming year.

More information can be found on our website, which is wtcutah.com. Our STEP grant application will be on a rolling basis, but we are excited that it is opening today. I want to let everyone know what the STEP grant funding can be used for. It’s focused on helping small businesses that are looking to expand internationally.

Some examples of where small businesses can use the funding include website optimization, translation, marketing media design and eventually travel to some of our upcoming international trade shows and trade missions. Some examples on our agenda include Arab health, the Paris air show and outdoor by ISPO.

Pete Codella: (5:49) That’s great. What an awesome resource for our businesses. I like the fact that you’re talking about a resource not just tied into a product per se, but also the marketing of that product and how to reach an international audience. Who’s eligible to work with your organization? 

Nicole Sherwood: (6:07) We are looking for small businesses that are headquartered in Utah and how we usually define a small business is: 500 employees or less, and we’re looking for companies in all industries. Whether you’re in a translation company or if you have a service or in the aerospace and defense industry, any outdoor products. We’ve worked with ski companies before, as well as snowboarding companies. 

One company, for example, SNO-GO, came with us to ISPO outdoor in the past, and that’s a combination of bike and skis, and they were looking to expand internationally in Germany and Japan. So they joined us. Any small business that is looking to go international should apply for a STEP grant because it offers that financial support to do that.

Pete Codella: (7:11) That’s a good point. You’ve got companies that produce both products and services that can be exported and used internationally available to both of those. It doesn’t have to be a product. I think the big news is how much money is available through this STEP grant this year and in Utah. Talk to us about that and why Utah’s maybe different from some other states.

Nicole Sherwood: (7:35) Yes, that’s a great question. Overall, Utah has been awarded $641,000 for the next 12 months. This grant is $141,000 higher than last year’s grant and almost doubled from two years ago. It is a record high STEP grant in Utah. So we are excited. We have the funds to help small businesses, and no other state has seen such an increase. And so we improve all of our incredible work by our Utah companies in pursuing international opportunities. 

Pete Codella: (8:17) And is the increase in the STEP grant money available due to the success Utah has had in international business? 

Nicole Sherwood: (8:25) Yes. It is a result of Utah companies pursuing international activities, and the awesome return on investment that companies are bringing back to Utah. This includes sales as well as job creation in Utah. 

Pete Codella: (8:46) That’s awesome. So Nicole, how much money could each company receive for a STEP grant?

Nicole Sherwood: (8:54) So over the next 12 months, a company can receive up to $15,000 this coming year. Usually, companies will use the grant for multiple activities. The award is between $2,000 to $3,000 per activity. We’ve had companies use it for the design of marketing media and then join us on a trade mission as well as a trade show.

That $15,000 can come quick. It’s great that companies can earn up to $15,000 and that we increased our cap from $10,000 last year to $15,000 this year, based on the need for our companies. Because of that, we did receive a higher award. 

Pete Codella: (9:47) Let’s talk just for a second about really how Utah compares to others in the nation.

You know, Utah is a state with 3.2 million residents. We’ve got an active and strong advanced manufacturing industry in Utah, which I think contributes to some of what we’re talking about. Hasn’t our export growth rate been higher than other states, and how is that measured? 

Nicole Sherwood: (10:12) Right. For example, in 2009, during the recession, small and medium businesses that exported had more than twice their non-exporting counterparts’ total revenue. To add to that, Utah’s export growth rate has been the highest in the nation for the past two years. 

Pete Codella: (10:32) Yeah, that’s pretty impressive for Utah. I mean, we don’t have millions and millions of people, but we’re growing, and we’ve got a great environment for business here.

Your organization does a lot to help businesses with their international operations. Anything you’d like to add, Nicole? 

Nicole Sherwood: (10:59) I would like to stress the importance of pursuing economic opportunities abroad. Exporting is an essential tool for U.S. businesses that want to grow revenue and boost the local economies.

We have a tool for helping companies to do that again through any of our free services, as well as the STEP grant. I encourage all companies to apply for the STEP grant. You could be new to exporting, as well as a market expansion company, or looking to get into an expansion into a new market. I’d encourage companies to apply as soon as possible.

Again, you can find out more information about the STEP grant, as well as the application on our website, which is wtcutah.com.

Pete Codella: (12:03) Again, to restate what we’ve discussed, the Small Business Administration approved World Trade Center Utah for a state trade expansion program, the STEP grant, of $641,000, which is a record high for a step grant for the state.

I do think that is an acknowledgment to the success that we’ve had. I also think we’re in a global economy. This pandemic has really underscored how connected we all are. We’re all traveling. We do trade internationally. It is a great way for a Utah business to increase revenues and reach, and what they’re able to accomplish by looking to an international market.

Nicole, any final words?

Nicole Sherwood: (12:51) My final words would be that World Trade Center Utah is the international arm for the state, and we are here to help. We offer those free services as well as grant opportunities, especially the STEP grant. Again, I encourage companies to apply sooner than later, and we are here to help your business expand internationally.

Pete Codella: (13:18) Thank you, Nicole. We appreciate you joining us on the Business Elevated podcast. 

Nicole Sherwood: (13:24) Thanks again for having me.  I look forward to connecting to all those businesses out there that are looking to go international.


Thanks for listening to the Business Elevated podcast, a production of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Listen to other episodes where you get your podcasts or at business.utah.gov.