Webinar highlights export opportunities, programs

By Lisa Gibson | April 18, 2011

Contrary to popular belief, small U.S. companies play a significant role in the country’s exports. In fact, 97 percent of all U.S. exporters are small businesses, according to Richard Ginsburg, senior international trade specialist with the Small Business Administration (SBA). He added that companies with 20 employees or fewer account for almost 70 percent of all U.S. exporters.

Ginsburg was one of five speakers during the April 18 webinar Biomass Energy Export – Market Opportunities and Government Programs, hosted by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Biomass Thermal Energy Council (BTEC). The free event was organized through the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Export Initiative (RE4I) and was designed to identify key federal government export promotion programs and highlight opportunities related to the export of biomass feedstock and equipment.

The RE4I was formed in response to President Barack Obama’s 2010 National Export Initiative to spur exports from the U.S. and create jobs in the process. The RE4I has 23 commitments from eight different federal agencies and seeks to recommit the U.S. government to address trade barriers in the sector, increase the amount of trade promotion activities for renewable energy and energy efficiency companies, and improve the delivery of U.S. government export promotion services for renewable energy and energy efficiency companies.

The SBA helps provide financing for small companies and with its premier offering, the Exporting Working Capital Program, it aims to improve the number of small business exporters and increase the market to a number of countries, Ginsburg said. He outlined a number of financial programs, saying his favorite is Export Express, which can have a minimum turnaround time, under the right conditions, of about six seconds. On the high end, it can take eight or nine days. “We think it’s pretty quick relative to the due diligence that goes into examining a transaction,” he said. The program offers loans and insurance for credit and the proceeds can go to toward a number of transaction-specific areas. “It can be used to make you export ready,” he said.

The export market does need our attention, according to Emanuel Wagner, program coordinator for the BTEC and speaker during the webinar. Despite accounting for roughly one-third of energy consumed in the U.S., thermal energy has been overlooked in energy policy, so crafting an effective national policy that addresses thermal energy in addition to the electric transportation sectors is essential. “Our activities are focused toward parity,” he said. Fuel oil prices are increasing, opening more opportunities for thermal biomass applications.

Naturally, the Export-Import Bank weighed in during the webinar, with a presentation from Hannelene Beillard, director of the bank’s environmental group. The bank recently opened an office specifically for renewable energy and currently has two biomass cases in the works, she said. “We are here to help you with any project you may be pursuing.” For more information on financing opportunities through the Export-Import Bank, visit www.exim.gov.

Cora Dickson, senior international trade specialist for the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration, displayed a chart during her presentation that showed U.S. wood exports have steadily increased, as have exports of biomass technologies. “But why aren’t we exporting more?” she questioned. It’s because we’re still meeting domestic demand, she answered, and because of a lack of detailed data, as well as nontariff barriers, logistics, and inexperience in exporting.

In Germany, for instance, woody biomass is the most used renewable source for heat applications, according to Andrea Stahl, commercial specialist with the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service in Germany. Its use is rising and will continue to do so, as the country simultaneously exports massive quantities of wood to other nations. “Biomass is considered the sexy fuel in Germany,” Stahl said.