Alaskans Not Keen On Trade Assistance Grant Programs

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June 17, 2011
Alaska Journal of Commerce
By Laine Welch

From seafood businesses to lumber companies to ulu makers, trade assistance grants and programs help American businesses and entrepreneurs compete with cheaper, foreign imports.  But it's been tough to find takers in Alaska.

"It's a good program, but our biggest problem is finding people to take advantage of it," said Gary Kuhar, director of the Northwest Trade Adjustment Assistance Center, which administers funds for five Northwest states through the Economic Development arm of the U.S. Commerce Department."  This is a very independent part of the country and unlike other places where they line up for this program, we have to go out and actually find people who are interested."

Matching grants of up to $75,000 are available to mid- or large-sized companies, and other provisions apply to smaller businesses, co-ops or associations.

"They only have to pay 25 percent but the ceiling of assistance is capped at $30,000.  So the federal share would be $22,500," Kuhar said.

A company has to show a decline in sales and employment, and tie that to increasing imports, but Kuhar said that "is not a big hurdle to accomplish."

Trade adjustment funds cannot be spent on capital improvements, equipment or hard assets.  Rather, the money goes towards technical expertise.

"We help the company develop a recovery strategy and then we go out and hire the expert needed to implement that strategy," Kuhar said.  "We do a lot of marketing strategies, brand identification, website design, export assistance and production engineering work to make firms more efficient."

Kuhar said the program has helped a wide range of Alaska businesses entrepreneurs and they want to do more.

"Many fish processing companies, lumber companies, novelty items, sausages, berries and fruit bars — just about anything that is produced in Alaska, we can help," he said.

An added bonus: The Northwest team handles all the paperwork and federal bureaucracy.  The application process opens July 1.  Find out more at www.nwtaac.org or via email at patrick@nwtaac.org.

Reprinted with permission