If your company is being hurt by foreign imports, it could be a job for TAACman. TAAC is the acronym for Trade Adjustment Assistance Center, a federal program that provides financial aid and technical assistance to manufacturing and producing companies that it certifies as adversely affected by foreign trade. TAAC also arranges for both direct and government-guaranteed loans -- up to $4 million for a single business.

DeFrancisci Machine Corp., an $8-million manufacturer of pasta-making equipment in Queens, N.Y., was getting clobbered by foreign competition when, about a year ago, it sought help from the TAAC covering metropolitan New York. TAAC provided consultants who advised the company on how to compete more effectively with foreign competitors, and paid for 75% of the consulting fees. TAAC advisers also made several visits to the company's operations and sat down with top management to review weaknesses. Business has since improved.

"As you grow up in the same family business for years and years, you become accustomed to doing things a certain way," says chairman Ignatius DeFrancisci. "It helped us to have knowledgeable outsiders give objective options."

Companies seeking assistance should apply to the nearest regional TAAC for certification as trade-effected. There are 13 centers nationwide and in Puerto Rico, all of them operated under the aegis of the U.S. Department of Commerce.