The nation's exporters say they don't get enough support tackling foreign markets, and it's hampering their ability to do business.

That's important because the majority of exporters are small, and as the economy experiences sluggish growth and weak job gains, they are generally seen as a bright spot for their reach beyond domestic markets. Further, their role is likely to grow as the U.S. considers trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

So says the National Small Business Association (NSBA), which this week published a report on small business exporting. The NSBA polled 530 business owners between February 22 and March 14, and its recent report updates one from 2013. Nearly 60 percent of the survey respondents had done some exporting, and about half said they were interested in exporting in the future.

About 98 percent of the more than 300,000 U.S. exporting firms are small, and they account for over a third of the $1.4 trillion in annual total export dollars in 2014, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which defines a small business as having fewer than 500 employees. Ninety-five percent of exporting firms in the NSBA survey had less than 100 employees.

Survey respondents who already export expressed a host of concerns. Chief among them was getting paid, which 44 percent cited. One-fifth of respondents said they had limited goods and services to export. Nearly 20 percent said they don't know enough about export regulations and policies, and a slightly lower percentage than that said exporting was costly, confusing, or took time away from domestic duties.

By contrast, 40 percent of those who would like to export said they don't have goods or services that are exportable; a slightly smaller percentage said they didn't know much about exporting, and about a quarter said they would worry too much about getting paid.

For those who export, two-thirds said they did so to increase company sales and profits, and roughly 70 percent said they devote less than 5 percent of annual operating revenue preparing to export.

Only 15 percent of exporters said trade associations were an important source of help to them, and just 9 percent said their local chamber of commerce was of assistance. Nearly half of respondents, meanwhile, mentioned their freight forwarder.

When it comes to financing for export operations, 50 percent said they got it from both large and small banks, while a scant 14 percent said they got it from the Export-Import Bank. The Ex-Im Bank, which provides credit insurance for businesses who extend terms to overseas customers, has been a political football of late, with conservative politicians claiming the bank overwhelmingly supports big businesses over small ones.

Finally, two-thirds of businesses surveyed exported to fewer than 10 countries. Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, China, and Australia were the top five markets mentioned.

The U.S. currently ranks far behind other large economies in terms of the percentage of goods and services it exports--about 13.4 percent, according to the World Bank. China and Germany, for example, export 22.6 percent and 46 percent of their goods and services, respectively.

By increasing exports a mere two percentage points, GDP would grow by an additional $300 billion, according to the centrist think tank Third Way.

Published on: May 6, 2016