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 have made it my mission to support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in our state since joining Congress in 2019.
As a small business owner and through my experience as a representative of small business owners to the West Virginia Legislative Assembly and the United States Congress, I understand the many challenges associated with operating and growing a small business. I have learned that small businesses can expand their customer base through international trade and investment.
In Congress, my focus is on expanding business opportunities for West Virginia 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 on a daily basis. Specifically, I sit on the Trade Subcommittee, which gives me a platform to influence federal trade and investment policies and ensure that our trade laws are fair and ensure equal market access for West Virginia SMEs.
Accessing and understanding trade policies, including export markets, is not restricted to big business. According to the US Trade Representative Office, SMEs support nearly 4 million jobs and represent about 98 percent of all identified US exporters. These companies are an integral part of the US economy and, with the right tools, have the power to export around the world.
The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) is one of the elements that empower small businesses, part of which is exclusively dedicated to advancing business opportunities for SMEs. A similar provision is also under consideration in free trade talks between the US and UK, which are expected to bring significant benefits to West Virginia businesses.
Through meetings with ambassadors and trade ministers, I have spent a lot of time promoting West Virginia as an attractive and viable trading market and investment destination. For example, my office, in conjunction with the Governor of Justice and the West Virginia Department of Commerce, signed a landmark Memorandum of Understanding on trade and investment between West Virginia and Vietnam earlier this year. This MOU is designed to connect all West Virginia businesses to the promising Vietnam market, through energy, mining machinery, hardwood, and educational exchanges. As a leading commodity and energy producing state, West Virginia has a lot to offer fast-growing countries like Vietnam.
For West Virginia businesses to take advantage of these vast business opportunities, we must connect every West Virginia to a reliable internet and other critical infrastructure. Broadband along with stable roads, rail lines, pipelines and inland ports are all necessary for West Virginia SMEs to participate in the global trading system. Without sufficient physical and virtual infrastructure, commerce is simply not possible. I continue to fight every day to make sure America’s infrastructure needs are a priority in the halls of Congress.
Despite promising business opportunities, businesses in West Virginia still face many hurdles such as tariffs, customs, and other onerous barriers that increase costs and hamper the efficiency of exports. Unfair and confusing trade and investment policies can deter small businesses from taking advantage of key opportunities in export markets. It is essential that federal, state and local government officials work together to better overcome these barriers that plague businesses on West Virginia Main Street.
Fortunately, there is an abundance of information and business resources available for businesses in West Virginia. For example, the West Virginia Department of Economic Development has a strong Export assistance program, which offers free export webinars, business advice and grants. In addition, my office has launched a new Trade and investment portal to better help West Virginia SMEs navigate federal trade and investment policies. Access to new markets through international trade should be available for businesses of all sizes and budgets. At the state and federal levels, we’re ready to help elevate West Virginia small businesses to power as they help build the world.
Carol Devine Miller, a Republican, represents West Virginia’s Third District and sits on the House Ways and Means Committee, including the Trade and Worker and Family Support subcommittees. She is also the founder and co-chair of the Congressional Energy Export Caucus.