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Export trade mission and STEP grant help dock builder land half-million-dollar project in Nicaragua

SBA STEP program celebrates 10 years of helping businesses grow export sales 

A West Virginia company completed a half-million-dollar project in the picturesque beach town of San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua. 

Small business makes splash with export

The project began when American Muscle Docks and Fabrication (AMD) joined the U.S. Commercial Service Trade Mission to Central America in March 2017. A small company with 21 employees, AMD was able to get help to defray travel expenses through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s State Trade Expansion Program (STEP). 

Introduced 10 years ago, the program awarded grants to the U.S. states and territories to set up and manage their own STEP programs. The STEP grants provide resources to small businesses looking to enter or expand in the global marketplace. Exporting benefits faster sales growth, job creation, continuous innovation, and more protection against economic downturns. 

West Virginia was selected to receive a STEP grant in 2015. Since then, the West Virginia Department of Economic Development (WVDED) STEP program has received nearly 1 million dollars in STEP grant funding and has helped more than 187 export projects achieve more than $20 million in sales.

Recently, the state received notice that it has been awarded $150,000 to be used from Oct. 1, 2020 to Sept. 29, 2021.

Worldwide prospects

The AMD dock system is designed to allow cruise ship passengers to disembark safely with ease.

Based in Wellsburg, AMD fabricates dock hardware, builds docks and installs dock systems. Sporting the tag line “From Wellsburg to the World™” on its website, the company ships parts and completed dock systems worldwide.

“We built the docks at our facility in Wellsburg and finished installing these docks in San Juan del Sur mid-August,” said Luke Diserio, chief executive officer for AMD. His father Paul Diserio serves as company president.

Luke accompanied the installation team to San Juan del Sur. The dock system is the company’s first in Nicaragua.

The project came about when AMD traveled with the 2017 Trade Mission to Central America, led by the U.S. Commercial Service. Every year, the West Virginia Department of Economic Development partners with the U.S. Commercial Service to organize and promote missions such as the one to Central America. The trade missions encourage companies to start or expand their international trade. Companies receive expert support services such as prescreened one-on-one business appointments with qualified business partners, country briefings by U.S. Embassy officials and interpretation services.

The Trade Mission to Central America visited Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, Nicaragua, Panama, and the Dominican Republic.

AMD identified Nicaragua as a potential client for their docks.

“The city had gone through two bid cycles, but nobody could meet the specifications,” Luke said. “We decided American Muscle Docks should enter a proposal.”

After returning to Wellsburg, Luke made return trips to follow up with Nicaraguan local officials. In addition, a delegation from Nicaragua traveled to Wellsburg in July to meet with American Muscle Docks. The West Virginia Department of Economic Development provided contacts and financial assistance for translating the company’s proposal and materials into Spanish. STEP grants helped with the costs of trips to Nicaragua.

As a result, AMD landed a project worth approximately $500,000.

“The U.S. Commercial Service Central America trade mission was key in landing the project in Nicaragua,” he said. “The team’s in-country support was crucial.”

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