Vermont businesses receive export grants

Barre-based Advanced Conversion manufactures specialty components for trucks, buses, and airplanes, as well as parts for power grids and laser surgery. Courtesy senior conversion.

Over the past two years, Ed Sawyer has used two federal grants of $20,000 each to try to increase Advanced Conversion’s exports. The Barre-based company makes specialty components for trucks, buses and airplanes, as well as components for power grids and laser surgery.

“It wasn’t a huge amount of money, but it helped us make the decision to go out and market our product,” said Sawyer, the company’s chief executive.

Advanced Conversion uses these grants to attend trade shows in Europe and travel abroad to meet with key clients.

Last month, Vermont increased funding for these federal grants that are part of the state’s trade expansion plan, which means more local businesses will benefit.

“It’s somewhat underutilized, but the state is ramping up its advocacy efforts, so I think we’re going to see more businesses use it,” said Dasi Carter, director of the Vermont Small Business Administration, a federal agency.

States applied for the funding, and this year, the Small Business Administration awarded Vermont $249,000 — a nearly 66 percent increase. Previously, the state offered $300,000 in grants over two years.

Businesses then apply for grants of up to $20,000 from the state Department of Business and Community Development, which administers the funds.

“A lot of people go to international trade shows, or they work on their website to suit certain markets, through translation or search engine optimization,” said Tim Tierney, director of commercial recruitment and international trade at the National Bureau of Commerce. Tierney said the company has used funds to improve its online platform to serve international customers during the pandemic.

“The return on investment for some of these companies is huge,” Tierney said. “You bring someone into a new market, and they enter that market. Not only is that a good thing for that company, but it creates jobs in Vermont.”

Tierney said the money was also used to hire consultants to help exporters clear customs, comply with trade regulations and conduct market research.

At Advanced Conversion, exports make up more than half of the business, according to Sawyer.

“Exports are our lifeblood,” he said.

The company has 34 employees in Vermont and exports to China, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Mexico and the United Kingdom, Sawyer said. Grants also help pay for export insurance, so banks will fund payments from customers abroad, he noted.

Most of the manufacturing is done at Barre, but the company also has manufacturing partners in China, Sawyer said.

This week, the business agency used a National Trade Expansion Program grant to host 40 Canadian companies in Burlington, connecting them with businesses and organizations in Vermont.

Vermont’s annual trade with Canada is $5 billion, and 73 Canadian businesses will employ 3,000 Vermonters by 2021, according to the agency. Vermont exported $830 million worth of goods and services to Canada last year.

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