CNMI local businesses attend trade show under STEP Grant

From left to right, James Rabauliman Jr. of Hybrid Shop, Kioshi Cody of the CNMI Department of Commerce, and Deron Mendiola of Marianas Trench Sea Salt at the Affordable Shopping Destination (ASD) Market Week, which took place from August 22 to 25, 2021 at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Two small business owners from the CNMI were recently selected by the CNMI Department of Commerce to attend the Affordable Shopping Destination (ASD) Market Week gift show from August 22 to 25, 2021 at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Marianas Trench Sea Salt and the Hybrid Shop qualified to attend the trade show under a federal grant known as the State Trade Expansion Program (STEP). 

Marianas Trench Sea Salt owner Deron Mendiola has been looking forward to exhibiting his locally-produced Pacific sea salt to thousands of potential buyers. The Rota-based business has been working with the CNMI Department of Commerce to refine his product and get it trade-show ready.

“I’m very humbled and grateful for the CNMI STEP team’s support and for giving me a chance to attend my very first trade show. This will help me grow my business and hopefully provide jobs to my fellow people on Rota. I’m proud to show the world that Rota products can compete on a global scale,” said Mendiola.

The Hybrid Shop is a Saipan-based retail store providing locally-made products ranging from dye-sublimated sports apparel/masks to high resolution photos on metal and acrylic. Owner James Rabauliman Jr. has recently expanded into personalized license plates and high-quality lapidas. He is also participating in his first ever trade show.

“At first I was nervous with the massive number of vendors and buyers present. But after talking to a lot of potential buyers just on Day 1, I got comfortable and started to connect naturally with everyone who came by our booth. I want to thank the CNMI STEP team for believing in me and giving me a chance to exhibit at ASD Market Week. This was an incredible opportunity for a small business owner like me,” said Rabauliman.

ASD Market Week is a semiannual event held in Las Vegas, NV. The gift-themed event featured 19,148 attendees on the first day and 1,300 vendors participating (www.asdonline.com).


Marianas Visitors Authority (MVA) provided giveaways to high-potential buyers so that the CNMI STEP team could promote the entirety of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Secretary of Commerce Edward M. Deleon Guerrero said this is a unique opportunity for CNMI entrepreneurs to represent the Marianas on a national platform.

“I am very proud that we were able to work with the Department of Finance and the Governor’s Office to make this trip possible. This is a wonderful opportunity to have our entrepreneurs think beyond our islands and give them a platform to do so. We are eager to see more participation from Tinian and Rota on the STEP grant. We’re invested in Rota and Tinian’s success and look forward to helping them grow their business,” said Secretary Deleon Guerrero.

Governor Ralph DLG. Torres is proud of the business owners and what they have accomplished at the ASD Market Week gift show.

“It is great that our local businesses have opportunities like this through our Department of Commerce. This was made possible through the STEP grant, our federal partnerships, and our hardworking local agencies, which allow our business owners to showcase and market their products while representing the Marianas. Providing opportunities for our local businesses to export their products and reach target markets abroad will allow them to grow and prosper, creating more local job opportunities while broadcasting the Marianas to the world,” said Governor Torres.

The State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) is a state-federal partnership funded in part through a grant from the US Small Business Administration (SBA). The intent of the grant is to provide financial assistance to local businesses wanting to export internationally as well to increase market expansion for those currently exporting.

The CNMI Department of Commerce is the administrator of the STEP grant and provides resources such as export training, product labeling/packaging, website translation, and business matchmaking. Through this program, STEP clients can also qualify to exhibit at a sponsored trade show.

For more information on how to become a CNMI STEP client, visit www.commerce.gov.mp/cnmi-step. You can also email CNMI.STEP@commerce.gov.mp or call (670) 664-3065 ext 108.

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