David Cole/Coeur d'Alene Press
HAYDEN - A small, family-owned Hayden manufacturer - Bullet Tools - had two major guests Friday afternoon.
They were the top Democrat and top Republican from the U.S. Senate's Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee: Maria Cantwell of Washington and Jim Risch of Idaho.
The senators toured Bullet, a maker of innovative "green" construction industry tools. Cantwell and Risch saw first-hand how the business has benefited from federal grants.
Bullet, at 3390 W. Hayden Ave., has received funding from the U.S. Small Business Administration's State Trade and Export Promotion (STEP) program.
STEP funds helped Bullet expand into international markets, which now make up half of its business, said Ben Toews, president of Bullet.
"The (committee's) programs have contributed to both our growth and the improved lives and livelihoods of contractors globally by enabling us to provide construction industry tools that require no electricity, produce no dust and improve installation time and efficiency," Toews said.
Following the tour, the senators announced plans to introduce bipartisan legislation this year to extend the STEP program.
In 2010, it was enacted as part of the Small Business Jobs Act. The three-year pilot program was designed to help small businesses by awarding grants to states to help small businesses begin or expand exports of their products. The pilot expired in 2013.
The senators' plan would transition STEP from a pilot program to a full program, and Cantwell and Risch will make improvements to the program based on lessons learned from participating companies.
"Here in the Pacific Northwest, we know that exports are crucial to our economy," Cantwell said. "The STEP program is a critical tool for small companies to increase exports in a growing global marketplace. That's where job growth and job creation is going to take place."
"Many small businesses in Idaho and the rest of the country have seen great success and increased exports with the help of the STEP program," Risch said. "I enjoy working with Sen. Cantwell and look forward to working together on bipartisan legislation that would reauthorize this important program."
Bullet was named as the SBA's "exporter of the year" for the Northwest region in 2009.
Since the launch of its legacy Magnum shear, a cordless, dustless shear for cutting laminate flooring, Bullet has expanded into siding and insulation tools and a new installation system for floating tile floors.
Both Washington state and Idaho are in the top 10 nationally for return on investment in the STEP program.
Idaho received $405,128 in the first two years of STEP funding with 89 grants to 69 companies, resulting in more than $11 million in export sales.
In Eastern Washington, 35 companies received $100,000 in STEP grants and leveraged that assistance to generate more than $18 million in export sales.
Washington, overall, received about $3 million in STEP grants, which helped about 450 small businesses and contributed to $169.9 million in export sales.