Thomas J. Donohue Thomas J. Donohue
Advisor and Former Chief Executive Officer, U.S. Chamber of Commerce


June 12, 2017


As the debate over trade continues to unfold, many small businesses around the country are watching with keen interest—their success depends on the outcome. Too often trade is thought of as an issue for large multinational companies, but, in reality, 98% of U.S. exporters are small and medium-size businesses. To help tell their stories, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently launched a new multimedia campaign called Faces of Trade.

The campaign tells the stories of businesses like Auburn Leather Company, based in Auburn, Kentucky. As a leader in the production of leather shoelaces, Auburn Leather sells its products all over the world. It employs 77 people, and about 90% of those jobs depend on exports. Ida Elliott, vice president of business development, says, “Without our ability to trade and sell products to overseas markets, the company would not have grown or survived.”

For many small and midsize companies, import tariffs imposed by foreign countries top the list of trade concerns. For example, ice cream maker Dippin’ Dots has faced tariffs ranging from 15% all the way up to 65% in some countries. “We have missed out on many markets internationally because we are not able to afford to do business with countries if their import duties are over 30%,” says Stan Jones, vice president of operations.

Another example is DeFeet, a small North Carolina sock maker that exports to 43 nations around the world. “Ever since we took our business international, we have grown exponentially and our sales continue to grow every day,” says founder Shane Cooper. But these benefits are being slowed by high barriers to entry in some of the countries DeFeet exports to. “We need Washington to support a robust trade agenda so we can continue to grow,” Cooper says.

The debate over what that agenda should look like is ramping up. After a monthslong wait, the Trump administration’s U.S. Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer, has finally been confirmed by the Senate. The administration has notified Congress of its intent to modernize NAFTA, kicking off a 90-day consultation period before negotiations officially begin. As we work with our leaders on NAFTA and other trade priorities, the Chamber is making sure we hear from Cooper and others in the business community.

The Chamber’s Faces of Trade campaign, launched last week, began by profiling 12 small and medium-size businesses and will continue to feature new companies on an ongoing basis. To read the stories and watch the videos, visit

About the authors

Thomas J. Donohue

Thomas J. Donohue

Thomas J. Donohue is advisor and former chief executive officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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