ISTEP Funding Creating Export Success in Canada

By Jim Ryan, International Trade Specialist
Illinois SBDC International Trade Center 

Over the past five years, through several federal and state iterations, the Illinois State Trade and Export Promotion (ISTEP) program has been a valuable tool for Central Illinois exporters.  The Illinois SBDC International Trade Center at Bradley University (ITC) has utilized ISTEP to send nearly 20 clients to Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Australia in order to pursue sales.

Recently, the program has proved to be a significant strategic asset to area companies exploring opportunities in Canada and will be used to fund participation in Centrallia 2016, which will be held in Winnipeg from May 25-27th.  

Centrallia is an international business-to-business forum focused on generating trade and business development opportunities around a targeted, speed-dating format with prospective customers and partners.

Jeff Davidsmeyer, President of Tarps Manufacturing, Inc., maker of specialized containment tarps highly sought after for trucking, agricultural, and construction applications, first used ISTEP in 2013 to attend the Construct Canada trade show in Toronto.  “We made over seven face-to-face office visits with potential customers and had countless meetings with key industrial contacts at the show,” Davidsmeyer explains. “In as little as four days, Tarps made significant contacts in this industry that would have otherwise taken numerous visits over several years.”  “We are really excited to be using ISTEP again to attend Centrallia this May to build off of our original success in Canada,” Davidsmeyer concludes.

Through ISTEP, the Illinois Department of Commerce reimburses either 25%, 50% or 75% of an Illinois exporter’s approved, overseas travel expenses up to $5,000 or $7,500 of what was incurred while engaged in such activities while participating in ISTEP designated trade missions, trade shows or overseas match-making and distributor searches.

Of course, the financial support is always welcomed by businesses looking to break into exports or expand their foreign markets. However, it has been the unparalleled support in the form of research, briefings, and on-the-ground expertise and matchmaking that companies have been most impressed with.

Ryan Deemer, Director of Operations for DoMor Equipment states, “Through ISTEP, we received sound advice that small businesses really cannot find anywhere else.”  “When I attended the Ontario Outdoor Farm Show in 2014, specialists from the Illinois Office of Trade and Investment walked from booth to booth with me. I was able to meet and talk to a lot of potential clients and also had their expertise with me during these conversations, resulting in some significant sales,” Deemer recounts. The company has found that Canada’s mix of agriculture, construction and infrastructure development is a perfect market for its aggregate spreaders and grader attachments, commonly used in the construction of asphalt roads and the maintenance of gravel and rural roads.

Deemer says, “Centrallia is really an interesting opportunity for us to further explore Canadian needs and requirements.  I also like the idea of having up to 14 vetted meetings with decision makers prepared to do business.”  

Centrallia is not only attracting local businesses looking to increase exports to Canada, but it is also attracting the interest of entities taking a broader view of the opportunities that it presents, as evidenced by the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council’s (EDC) participation.

We will be operating a booth at Centrallia in order to promote Central Illinois as an ideal location for Canadian businesses to service US markets,” explains Kim Uhlig, EDC Director of Business Attraction.  “However, it is expected that there will be over 700 participants from 30 countries with a focus on Latin America, so I will be introducing the Greater Peoria region to a global audience, as well as providing Foreign Direct Investment opportunities to companies interested in the USA,” she states.

The deadline to register for Centrallia 2016 is May 9th.  ISTEP grants are awarded on a first come, first served basis, while funds are available. If you would like more information, please contact me at or call (309) 677-3075.