Traditionally, federal offices that provide export support services to small and medium sized businesses have been located in large city commercial districts, the historic epicenter of industry and manufacture. In recent years, however, export businesses have contributed to suburban sprawl, setting up shop outside of city limits. With the movement of business came the challenge of providing equally accessible services to consumers no longer concentrated in urban areas.
In an effort to provide integrated export marketing and trade finance counseling services to the American business community in key sites across the nation, the United States Office of Domestic Operations (ODO) developed and implemented a long-term strategic export plan targeted to America's export-ready small and medium sized businesses. ODO designed and created "one-stop shops," which they termed U.S. Export Assistance Centers (USEACs). USEACs consolidate the export promotion and trade finance services of the Commerce Department, the Small Business Administration, and the Export-Import Bank of the United States with those of state and local, public and private export service organizations.
Adopting a grassroots approach, ODO held over 50 public outreach meetings throughout the United States, soliciting comments on creation of a national network to provide seamless delivery of export promotion services to all American exporters. Four pilot centers were inaugurated on January 1994, in Baltimore, Chicago, Miami, and Long Beach. Building on the pilots' successes, ODO created a national hub-and-spoke design and opened 10 additional USEACs in major cities and 15 District Export Assistance Centers (DEACs) to complement and extend the services of the USEACs to business communities that lie beyond major urban centers. This strategy of co-locating centrally with other partners and integrating federal, state, and private export facilitation services represents a radical departure from the way the federal government has provided export promotion services to the business community.
In 1994, Export Assistance Centers supported 4,068 exports. That number increased by 45 percent in 1995 and again by 67 percent in 1996. These figures show that USEAC services have not only accommodated businesses by offering needed assistance, but have fostered growth in export-oriented businesses. ODO conducts client satisfaction surveys to evaluate program success. In 1995, 352 clients were surveyed. In that survey, 92 percent responded that they were either satisfied or very satisfied with the quality of service they had received. These results show that USEACs have made a positive impact in converting the formerly fragmented international trade communities into a more cohesive, well-supported group.