FILE - ME cargo ship 6-21-2018

A container cargo ship enters harbor June 21, 2018, at Portland, Maine.

The Maine International Trade Center has received nearly $350,000 from the U.S. Small Business Administration to help local merchants with growth in exports.

The $344,500 grant was awarded through the SBA’s State Trade Expansion Program (STEP), the mission of which is “to increase the number of U.S. small business exporters and increase their export sales,” according to the SBA website.

“Small businesses must continually seek new markets and new customers in order to grow and thrive,” Amy Bassett, SBA’s district director for Maine, said in a news release. “Maine small businesses like Blue Barn recognize that diversifying sales through exporting provides significant opportunity to expand and the STEP grant can help make that happen.”

In recent years, many types of businesses have used STEP grant funding to expand overseas commerce opportunities, including Blue Barn, which makes blueberry wines. A Trenton-based manufacturer of weather forecasting systems, RainWise, attended a European trade show with STEP funding.

“The STEP program has helped hundreds of small businesses in Maine become better, stronger, and smarter exporters, in addition to providing financial support to directly explore global markets,” MITC President Wade Merritt told the Press Herald.

2019 marks the seventh straight year the MITC has received a STEP award. It received a comparable $345,000 grant in 2018.

The MITC annual report for 2018 estimates exports were up 6 percent over the previous year. Maine’s top 10 export markets are: Canada, China, Malaysia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Germany, Netherlands, Singapore and Mexico.

“From the 2017-2018 grant year, over 50 Maine small businesses received STEP Financial Assistance Awards, resulting in $12.8 million in actual sales with an additional $17 million projected in the next 12-18 months,” the report states. “These figures represent a 72:1 immediate return and a projected 226:1 future return on grant funds.”