Export Assistance to Help You Begin or Expand Your Export Business

The Office of Trade & Investment’s Chicago office is staffed by experienced trade specialists who work with the foreign office staff to help Illinois companies begin and expand their export business. They’ll work with you and provide:

  • Individualized counseling and assessment sessions to determine a company’s exporting capabilities and interests.
  • Trade reference materials, international trade leads and international certification opportunities.
  • Market research, analysis and options for the company to determine the best geographic market for its products.
  • Customized lists of buyers, agents, distributors and other potential industry partners overseas.
  • Financial, legal, logistical, and other industry experts as requested.

If you are new to exporting or looking to expand to new markets, the state’s Office of Trade & Investment and the local network of the SBDC’s International Trade Centers can provide you with assistance.


​​ISTEP Program​​Local Resources



To learn about federal resources available to help you export, see below.


​Federal Partners​Federal Resources​Export Financing​Manufacturing Consulting​Business Consulting

Company Feedback and Success Stories

The virtual trade mission was well organized. All appointments reached top level decision makers. Objectives were met. The number and quality of leads also met expectations. Would definitely participate again.

Engis Corporation, - Wheeling, Il
Participant – India Virtual Trade Mission 2021


We have participated in the Illinois STEP program since 2012 and always felt that Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity's (DCEO) Office of Trade and Investment (OTI) has helped us opening doors overseas. We have enjoyed the support for individual trade missions to Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Austria, Denmark, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Brazil and also participated in Group Trade Missions to Turkey and Germany. Moreover, we have been receiving assistance from local State of Illinois representations in Belgium, Germany and Brazil. We find that the support and quality program of STEP program has been very beneficial to us when increasing our international business activities.

Fredonia Inc. – Wheaton
Participant – World Cargo Alliance Conference


We came to learn about the ISTEP program while taking part in another State of Illinois (DOC) Trade Mission in Mexico.  During that show in Mexico, the entire Illinois team was engaged is helping ensure that the participating manufacturers had all the support we needed to grow our export sales.  During the various conversations with Illinois personnel, we were introduced to the ISTEP program.  While the additional travel funds from ISTEP were certainly a big help to ensure we could take one last trip to South America for the year, there was help and support well beyond the funding.  Our Illinois and ISTEP program contacts walked us through the application process and some of the restrictions and offered translation services and actual introductions to potential distributors/users in our target countries.  We were particularly interested in option's to deal with Accounts Receivable from new partners overseas through the EXIM Bank, and were introduced to the appropriate representative with EXIM by Illinois/ISTEP.  We also used the various on-line resources available to conduct some research and make sure our understanding of shipping/exporting were up to date.  Once our funding was approved, the trip was made and it was a huge success.  The timing was right and we were able to capitalize on some newly found momentum with one of our key target distributors.  Several meetings and joint sales calls to end users were made and upon returning, we have now received orders in excess of $175,000 from this target distributor!  The help from the Illinois/ISTEP program, and especially all the help and support from their team members made a huge difference for us.  We are very grateful for the support and look forward to continuing to grow our export sales with the ultimate goal of exports being a much larger part of our business.

Ringspann Corporation – Franklin Park
Participant – Expo Pack 2018

Frasca International has participated in the ISTEP program for several years and has benefited from international trade show assistance. We attend over 20 trade shows each year, many of them to foreign countries as our customer base is truly global. In our industry, the sales cycles can take several years. It’s important to have a continued presence in foreign markets in order to develop relationships, trust and ultimately sell our simulation products. We have also been able to meet with existing customers and cultivate adiditonal sales to them. The ISTEP program has helped offset the costs to attend these events and ultimately increase our international sales.

Frasca International – Champaign 
Participant - European Airline Training Symposium 2018 (EATS)


"We are very honored to partner with OTI for the chance to expand business overseas. Things like this help to grow local business and expand reach to other areas of the world. --- Overall the show as a great turnout. We meet a lot of potential clients and were able to get our name out in an area that we have been looking to grow. We look forward to being present at the next show. ---- Partnering with OTI is a success in the fact that groups like this help to bring business and potential clients forward for manufacturing industries."

Excel Foundry and Machine – Pekin, IL
Participant – Electra Mining Africa 2018


“Zhigang Ren and Atul Nair were instrumental in providing all the necessary steps to allow me and my company to participate in this trade mission.  Mr. Ren visited my company and interviewed me for the program.  He determined this trade mission would be a good fit to expand our exporting efforts into Hong Kong and China.  Through Mary Ma's (SBDC) efforts, she connected me with Kitty Leung (Managing Director, Far East Office, State of Illinois) and helped to set up a meeting with Kitty while I was in Hong Kong.  Kitty encouraged me to travel again to Hong Kong soon so she could set up further match making meetings with IL companies that do regular business in Hong Kong and China.  This is my second Trade Mission in China in 3 years and I feel OTI has always provided incredible opportunities in exports that would otherwise never have come to fruition without these valuable trade missions.”

Basic Crating & Packaging Inc. – Elk Grove Village, IL

Participant - Asian Logistics & Maritime Conference 2015

“We were originally contacted by the DCEO-OTI during a national exhibition in Chicago where they informed us on the DCEO-OTI export programs. Without their initial outreach we would have most likely delayed our export efforts.  By participating in the Parts2 Clean Show in Stuttgart, Germany we were able to meet with a number of potential distributors and customers for the European automotive sector. Based on customer and distributor feedback we determined that our products have good market potential in Europe and we obtained 2 new distribution partners.”

Bertsche Engineering Corporation – Buffalo Grove, IL
Participant – Parts 2 Clean 2015

“The biggest assistance was enabling us to attend this critical show. To establish new business leads and channels, it's all about making personal contact and spending time with the potential partners. One hour face to face is easily worth 6 months of calls and emails. Without this assistance to attend, it would have been financially prohibitive to attend this show.”

Dental USA – McHenry, IL
Participant – International Dental Show 2015

“Illinois team is great, meticulous and very determined to help everyone of the delegates.  Iwona & Sioban are wonderful, knowledgeable and thorough.  I am grateful to these tow ladies who worked so hard every day was a long day with results.  These programs are the future.  We create future livelihood, prosperity, and sustenance because world us the market place.   These trade missions give us eye opening knowledge to plan our marketing efforts to service and prosper.  We are stronger and tougher as we gather international knowledge.”

American Plastics Technologies – Mattoon, IL
Participant – Medica 2015

“This program has certainly helped Cobra Systems debut our product line in the European market.  It would have been cost-prohibitive to exhibit at the Farnborough Air Show on our own, and we are extremely appreciative of all the assistance in attending the show.  We look forward to the Paris Air & Water show next year and maintaining our global reputation as a leading test equipment manufacturer.  We are very thankful for all of the transportation and opportunities arranged by the wonderful managing directors.  We appreciate the expertise, professionalism, and organizational abilities of this department's great program.”

Cobra Systems – Arlington Heights, IL
Participant – Farnborough Air Show 2014

“DCEO-OTI & its foreign office went above and beyond to ensure a successful show.  You name it the whole team was on it.  From getting samples to Canada, to having our booth ready, transportation, the list goes on.  Speaking with other long term attendees, the feeling was wow they really work their butts off to insure a great successful business building program. Product was very well received.  We expect to close on representation very soon in the Canadian market.”

Empanadas Patagonia – Oak Brook, IL
Participant – Restaurants Canada Show 2015

“The team was extremely helpful in all aspects of preparing and attending the show.  Having a stand at the show was very effective way for us to meet potential customers, and also a good way for existing customers to see that we are working to expand our international customer base. We have made several strong contacts with companies that we would otherwise not have been aware of or thought to market to.  These connections will likely lead to additional new business in both the U.S. and European markets. “

Ingenium Technologies Corporation – Rockford, IL
Participant - Farnborough Air Show 2014

“We would not have come to MWC if Sharon had not reached out and suggested it.  Once we agreed to participate, everything was taken care of for us:  the booth, the hotel, badges, travel instructions, Wi-Fi, etc.  As a result of being here, we have improved our potential for export enormously.  Next we would like help with our plan to expand into Europe. As a result of attending MWC'15 we are much better placed to fulfill our global ambitions.  We have learned more about the market and its potential, and we have made a lot of relationships, in terms of partners and prospects.  We expect to achieve significant growth in overseas markets as a result of our participation in the world's largest meet-up and exhibition in our industry.”

Lextech Global Services Corporation – Lisle, IL
Participant – Mobile World Congress 2015

“The DCEO-OTI was very helpful.  We would have never been able to come to China without the trade mission.  Respa has wanted to export for a decade and did not know how to but thanks to the trade mission we have located partners and will hopefully begin exporting for the first time in the company’s’ 25 year history.  Mr. Ren has been very helpful and the best part of the trip.  Mr. Zhao and Ms. Xu were also very helpful in arranging our meetings and I think all three went above and beyond the required duty to assist.  I would highly recommend all three for an award. We were able to locate multiple leads for distributing our products in China.  The trade mission arranged multiple meetings with companies with helped greatly.  We would highly recommend all IL businesses to consider an IL trade mission.”

Respa Pharmaceuticals Inc. – Addison, IL
Participant – China Nutrition and Health Expo 2015

“Thank you for this program! With support in the booth and presence at the conference, Advanced Diamond Technologies (ADT) was able to build new relations and make new business contacts with several international clients. All of this business will result in higher investment for ADT in U.S. manufacturing and employment in Illinois. With the State of Illinois’ support and presence at Nanotech 2013, ADT is a more well-recognized international business. Our business outlook has been strengthened with growth potential in international markets and this program has enabled our participation. Thank you for supporting our business…”
-- Advanced Diamond Technologies - Romeoville, IL
 Participant - Nano Tech Japan 2013 Group Trade Mission

“Hannover Messe (Trade Show) was a tremendous success for Airfloat…We were able to gather valuable market intelligence for our European expansion plans and secure dozens of high-quality sales leads with companies throughout Western and Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia. We received several serious offers from companies wanting to help distribute our equipment throughout Europe. We sincerely appreciate all the assistance provided by DCEO-OTI.”
-- Airfloat, LLC. - Decatur, IL
 Participant - 2012 Hannover Messe Group Trade Mission

“DCEO-OTI and OTI’s foreign offices have been invaluable in helping to enhance our reputation for both the domestic and international clients… In my estimation, there has been no finer government resource for my firm than DCEO-OTI and OTI’s foreign offices… Companies that do not avail themselves to the services and opportunities that DCEO-OTI and OTI’s foreign offices are wasting an immeasurable resource. This program is vital and essential to my firm’s growth in the United States and abroad.” 
 -- Bancroft Architects and Engineers - Chicago, IL  
 Participant - BIO Tech Japan 2013 Group Trade Mission

"The assistance and support provided by DCEO-OTI and OTI's foreign trade offices both prior to and after our arrival in India has made this initial entry into the Indian market a success. Because we were able to attend this Medical Fair (Trade Show)... we were able to identify several important contacts with whom we have arranged following visits...We attribute much of our potential to succeed to the opportunities provided by this program..."
-- DXR Development Group - Carbondale, IL
 Participant - Medical Fair India 2013 Group Trade Mission

" I want to inform you that the solid, quality growth Frigid is experiencing in 2013, of which international export is a very important component, has allowed the company to hire a “high value” employee. Specifically, Frigid has brought on an industrial engineer. This position is new and additive to the employee base. The engineer has been aware there are savings to be earned and efficiencies to be gained in the manufacturing process, parts design and production, shop floor organization, reduction in scrap and waste, even from better programming of the automated machine tools. In his first several weeks the engineer has already identified substantive savings in these areas. This is just the beginning. The cumulative impact of his ideas can only strengthen our competitive position and maintain our reputation for quality, both nationally and internationally. As we blend these and other programs with the superb support from your staff and foreign offices with whom we are working, we look forward to the need to hire additional skilled workers to meet increasing overseas demand for Frigid products."
-- Frigid Fluid Company - Northlake, IL
 Participant - Individual Foreign Market Sales Mission - United Kingdom and Poland

“We were deeply benefited by the various services offered by OTI in China, ranging from hotel reservations, transportation arrangements, campus visits, and matchmaking appointments… Simply put, OTI did an excellent job in helping our advertising and recruitment.”
-- Lake Forest College - Lake Forest, IL
 Participant - 2013 IL Higher Education Group Trade Mission to China

“OTI has effectively introduced Machine Tool Builders, Inc. to many resources available to research and better understand our opportunities… This trade show provided an excellent vehicle to learn, understand and implement change...for better results, internationally… The staff from OTI was exceptional!”
-- Machine Tool Builders, Inc. - Machesney Park, IL 
 Participant - 2013 Hannover Messe Group Trade Mission

“The program was exceptionally well organized and the State Department, DCEO, and OTI created the most business friendly environment imaginable. There were always representatives available to help arrange follow-up meetings and recommend or comment on partners or sales leads…”

 -- Masterpiece Products - Chicago, IL
 Participant - Ethiopia and Ghana Matchmaking Group Trade Mission  

“An invaluable program to help penetrate foreign markets and offset the cost... For a small business such as ours, this type of government program is key for our future growth.”
-- Pallet Repair Systems, Inc. - Jacksonville, IL
 Participant – Individual Foreign Market Sales Mission with Matchmaking Appointments in New Zealand  

“We generated many leads for new business in China and were able to meet with potential clients regarding our biotech services. We appreciate the opportunity the State of IL provided us with the ISTEP program to participate in BIO China (Trade Show) and look forward to continued collaboration with…the teams at DCEO and OTI.”  
-- Shamrock Structures - Woodridge, IL
 Participant – Individual Foreign Market Sales Mission to 2012 Bio China Trade Show

“Through the DCEO-OTI program, our company is on the right track to expanding our international sales efforts. With the introduction of matchmaking services to our marketing platform, it may allow our small domestic business to transition to a very large international business.” “We were able to do many years work in just a few days due to our high visibility and ability to network with multiple international trade partners in their region...There is no question in my mind that I wouldn’t have been able to actualize this unexpected and exciting direction we are headed without the State Of Illinois’ ISTEP program’s… leadership.”  

 -- Smart Medical Technology, Inc. - Darien, IL
 Participant – Arab Health 2013 Group Trade Mission

“This program enabled us to demonstrate our products to customers we could not have accessed without DCEO-OTI’s support. We expect to create a significant foothold in a new export market based on this program.”

 -- Vanee Foods Company - Broadview, IL
 Participant – 2012 Canadian Restaurant and Food Association Group Trade Mission