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How we can help more American small businesses export

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Technology has made it easier than ever before for small businesses to find new customers abroad. That’s been the experience for Ryan McFarland in South Dakota, who started Strider Bikes in 2007 after inventing a pedal-free bicycle for his young son. He’s since sold more than 2.5 million bikes to customers in 78 countries, and international sales account for over half of the company’s business. Through products and tools like Google Ads, YouTube and Market Finder, small businesses like Strider Bikes are finding new markets and building relationships with customers around the world.

Still, we know that a majority of small businesses currently do not export their products, and many that do export continue to find it a difficult process. That’s where technology can come in -- helping small businesses access international markets that present great opportunity.

To better understand the opportunities and gaps for small businesses, we commissioned a study from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Brunswick Research on small business exports. We wanted to dig deeper into the role small businesses play in U.S. export success, the challenges they face in exporting and the ways new technologies and policy approaches can support them. Their new report, “Growing Small Business Exports: How Technology Strengthens American Trade,” comes out today. 

Researchers surveyed more than 3,800 small businesses across the country to estimate the current and potential impact of small business exports on the U.S. economy. A few highlights: Small business exports support more than six million jobs across all 50 states, and add over $540 billion annually to the American economy. Still, there’s a huge opportunity for more small businesses to sell overseas. If policymakers and the business community can help small companies overcome some of the challenges of exporting—like language barriers, customs issues and payment challenges—we could create nearly 900,000 additional jobs in the U.S. 

Modernizing and updating trade policy is key to unlocking exports for small businesses. But better use of technology also plays a critical role. The survey found that the majority of non-exporting small businesses—more than 70 percent—aren’t familiar with digital tools that could help them reach global customers. Tools like translation services, digital marketing and advertising and online payment platforms can help small businesses reach beyond their local markets. 

Based on these findings, the report offers a few recommendations, including:

    • Develop a collaborative initiative between the federal government, state governments, the private sector and others to train and assist U.S. small businesses in using technology for exporting. This approach would modernize export promotion tools while driving coordination between the numerous federal and state export agencies that have a stake in helping small businesses engage in trade. 
    • Encourage innovators and technology providers to build new digital tools—and broaden awareness of existing tools—that address barriers facing small business exporters. Today, only 20 percent of small businesses use digital tools to export. By increasing awareness of these resources, we can set small businesses up for success.
    • Building on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), policymakers should prioritize additional market-opening trade agreements that benefit small business exporters, including through high-standard rules in areas such as digital trade and the removal of non-tariff barriers that disproportionately affect small businesses.

    At Google, small businesses have always been a top priority of ours. (In fact, the first company to sign up for our ads platform was a small business -- a mail-order lobster business from Maine!) By doing our part to lower barriers to exporting, we can help small businesses grow overseas and bring jobs and economic opportunities back to their communities. It’s crucial that policymakers across federal, state and local governments work with large and small businesses to meet this opportunity.

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