This is a guest article by U.S. Congresswoman Carol Miller, who represents West Virginia’s 3rd District.
Small businesses are the backbone of our country’s economy and their success at home and abroad is what powers our local, state, national and international economies. I’ve made it my mission to support our state’s small-and-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) since joining Congress in 2019.
As a small business owner and through my experience representing small business owners in the West Virginia Legislature and United States Congress, I understand the many challenges of operating and growing a small business. I’ve learned that small businesses can expand their customer base through international trade and investment.
In Congress, I’m focused on expanding trade opportunities for West Virginia’s businesses. This year, I was chosen to sit on the House Ways and Means Committee, which deals with trade, tax and health care issues that affect our communities every day. Specifically, I sit on the Trade Subcommittee, which gives me a platform to influence federal trade and investment policies and make sure our trade laws are fair and ensure equal market access for SMEs in West Virginia.
Access and understanding of trade policies, including export markets, is not just for big companies. According to the U.S. Trade Representative Office, SMEs support nearly 4 million jobs and account for approximately 98 percent of all identified U.S. exporters. These businesses are an integral part of America’s economy, and with the right tools, have the power to export across the globe.
One of the things empowering small business is the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which features a portion solely dedicated to advancing trade opportunities for SMEs. A similar provision is also under consideration in the ongoing U.S.-U.K. free trade discussions, which should yield significant benefits for West Virginian companies.
Through meetings with ambassadors and trade ministers, I have spent a significant amount of time promoting West Virginia as a compelling and viable trade market and investment destination. For example, my office, in collaboration with Governor Justice and the West Virginia Department of Commerce, signed a historic trade and investment Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between West Virginia and Vietnam earlier this year. This MOU is designed to connect all West Virginia companies with Vietnam’s promising market, through energy, mining machinery, hardwoods and educational exchanges. As a top-tier commodity and energy-producing state, West Virginia has much to offer fast-growing countries such as Vietnam.
For West Virginia’s businesses to take advantage of these expansive trade opportunities, we need to connect every West Virginian with reliable internet and other critical infrastructure. Broadband along with stable roads, rail, pipelines, and inland ports are all necessary for West Virginia SMEs to participate in the global trading system. Without sufficient physical and virtual infrastructure, trade is simply not possible. I continue to fight every day to ensure that America’s infrastructure needs are top of mind in the halls of Congress.
Despite promising trade opportunities, West Virginia companies still face many obstacles such as cumbersome tariffs, customs and other barriers that increase costs and stymie export efficiency. Unfair and confusing trade and investment policies can discourage smaller companies from taking advantage of key export market opportunities. It’s critical that federal, state, and local government officials work together to better address these barriers impacting West Virginia Main Street companies.
Fortunately, there is an abundance of trade information and resources available to West Virginia businesses. For example, the West Virginia Department of Economic Development has a robust Export Assistance Program, which features free export webinars, trade counseling and grant funding. Additionally, my office has launched a new Trade and Investment portal to better assist West Virginia SMEs navigate federal trade and investment policies.Access to new markets through international trade should be available to companies of all sizes and budgets. At the state and federal level, we are ready to help elevate West Virginia small businesses to power as they help build the world.
Carol Devine Miller
Carol Devine Miller, a Republican, represents West Virginia’s Third District and serves on the House Ways and Means Committee, including the Trade and Worker and Family Support Subcommittees. She also is the founder and co-chair of the Congressional Energy Export Caucus.