Updated March 30 at 12:29am

Chafee center grant to help R.I. small businesses grow exports


SMITHFIELD - Representatives of state government, the General Assembly and the state’s congressional delegation gathered Monday morning at Bryant University to announce the receipt of a $496,066 federal grant for the Chafee Center for International Business/World Trade Center Rhode Island, housed at Bryant.

Raymond W. Fogarty, director of the center named for the late U.S. Sen. John H. Chafee, praised state and federal lawmakers, as well as the leaders of state government and the U.S. Small Business Administration in Rhode Island, for their work winning the grant in what officials called a highly competitive atmosphere.

The funds will be used to boost exports by small and medium-sized businesses in Rhode Island, both those who have experience exporting and those who do not. The grant comes from the SBA’s State Trade and Export Promotion program, part of the federal Small Business Jobs Act of 2010.

Funds also will support three trade missions overseas, with the first one to Israel scheduled for late this week. About 40 government, educational and business representatives are slated to leave Friday for Israel. Two other trade missions are being planned for China or Japan and for the Dominican Republic and Colombia, due to the state’s large Latino business population, Fogarty said.

“We all know that the fastest way out to grow out of this recession is to help small business,” said Keith W. Stokes, director of the R.I. Economic Development Corporation, at the news conference. U.S. Rep. David N. Cicilline, a member of the small business committee in the U.S. House, said the grant should help small businesses increase exports, a step he called “the key to growing jobs in Rhode Island.”

Plans call for about 150 companies in the state to benefit from in-depth services, ranging from one-on-one counseling to translation assistance overseas. The entire process will begin with surveys that the Chafee center will send to 3,000 businesses to assess ongoing export activities and the opportunity for increasing them.

Of those 3,000, 650 will be chosen for in-depth personal interviews to further assess their global needs. Of those 650, 150 will be chosen for what Fogarty told Providence Business News would be “very deep services” involving agencies such as the SBA, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the R.I. Small Business Development Center and the R.I. Manufacturing Extension Services, said Fogarty.

Right now, the Chafee center’s annual operating budget is approximately $700,000, and with the cutbacks in state funding in recent years, the federal grant is welcome indeed, Fogarty said. He is in the process of hiring a full-time manager to head the STEP program in Rhode Island and several part-time workers at the center will see their hours increased to full-time levels, Fogarty said. His operating budget would rise to about $1.2 million as a result of the grant.

The Ocean State ranked 14th in the nation through the first seven months of 2011 in export growth, with $1.332 billion worth of goods exported through the end of July, the most recent figure available, according to the Chafee center. Rhode Island’s top export markets are Canada, Mexico, Germany, Turkey and China. Exports could double by 2014 as result of the STEP grant, predicted Mark S. Hayward, SBA Rhode Island director.

Other officials at the news conference were: U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, R.I. Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed and Jose-Marie Griffiths, vice president of academic affairs at Bryant.

Rhode Island businesses interested in taking part in the STEP program should contact the Chafee center at Bryant at (401) 232-6407.


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