SEATTLE — When an American worker loses their job due to competition created by international trade, the Trade Adjustment Act provides funding for that worker to be retrained for a new job. A cousin to that program is the Trade Adjustment Assistance for Firms program.

Instead of retraining workers, the federal program retrains companies, from farms to manufacturers, that are facing revenue losses because of trade, usually in the form of competition from low-cost imports. The TAAF provides a dollar for dollar match up to $75,000 for businesses to bring in outside expertise to help them better compete.

“If a company is facing very strong price competition, they generally find themselves in a situation where something has to change. They have to find a new corner of the market. They have to get better at doing something,” said David Holbert, the CEO of the Northwest Trade Adjustment Assistance Center.

The center runs the TAAF for Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska. Companies can use the assistance to help with marketing, expanding into new markets, developing new products, updating manufacturing techniques or equipment, building a website and more.

Holbert gave the example of a tree nut grower in Oregon that was having trouble competing with cheap, subsidized nuts from Turkey. The TAAF paid for the consulting needed to help the grower make the switch from wholesale to value-added products sold directly to stores.

He said when companies come in with a plan for what they might do to remain competitive, the Northwest Trade Adjustment Assistance Center can help them refine their plans or give them confidence that the strategy will work. The center submits an application on the client’s behalf to Economic Development Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce, and once the application is approved, the program will provide matching grant funds to the firms providing outside expertise to the client.

“It’s a rule-driven process,” Holbert said. “We are filling out the petitions. We know the application standard that is going to work. It’s not a situation where you cross your fingers and hope you get approved, it’s a case where you submit your forms and you expect it, it’s just how long it’s going to take.”

Once approved, the assistance center works with companies for a span of five years.

According to documents provided by the center, in Oregon 11 companies took advantage of the TAAF funding between 2011 and 2015, an all 11 of them saw positive outcomes through either expanding or stabilizing their business. On average, they saw a 21% increase in sales.

Firms that are interested in receiving TAAF funds can visit nwtaac.org or call 206-622-2730.

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