While 2010 was a rough year for businesses by most measures, Connecticut companies were exporting at record levels. Over the next six months the U.S. Commerce Department will host cheap webinars to help companies expand in overseas markets.

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney announced the new informational series along with Anne Evans of the Commerce Department Wednesday at the state Capitol.

“The goal is very simple—increase profitability of our businesses, and exporting to foreign countries is both at record levels and a growth market for Connecticut companies,” Merrill said.

Census Bureau statistics found Connecticut companies exported $16 billion in 2010, she said. That’s almost 15 percent more than the previous year’s exports.

It’s also good news for Connecticut, Merrill said. If companies are making more profits overseas, it translates to more jobs here in the state, she said.

Evans, who is director of the department’s Export Assistance Center, said companies that export tend to offer better paying jobs and tend to have more stable staff. The also tend to have more certifications, stronger domestic markets, and make more money in general, she said.

The webinars, beginning later this month, will help the state’s small businesses identify potential overseas markets and make sense of complex export laws.

Courtney said that exporting is a “somewhat daunting” opportunity for companies not already engaged in international markets. He said he and Evans traveled three times to foreign countries with representatives of Connecticut companies.

“Every single company that went on those trips saw a real payoff in terms of new markets and new customers,” he said.

Connecticut has thousands of defense industry supply chain manufacturers that could “grow like weeds in terms of sales” in foreign markets, he said. Some of the webinars will offer a “primer” of what markets companies could expand in, he said.

Other sessions, which Evans said will cost businesses between $3 and $35, will focus on the licenses and other paperwork required to comply with individual countries’ export laws. Courtney said he expects many businesses will subscribe to that webinar.

“On every single one of our trips we found out that frankly the biggest hurdle, in some instances obstacle, for U.S. manufacturers is dealing with the system of export controls,” he said. “… Trying to get a license to export can be extremely expensive and complex.”

Courtney said that U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has proposed an initiative to collapse some of the export controls into one department, but for the time being Connecticut companies must learn to navigate the existing system. 

“It’s there today and these companies need help, lots of it, in terms of trying to figure out how that system works,” he said.

Evans said President Barack Obama promised to double U.S. exports in five years in his 2010 State of the Union address.

“We’re well on our way here in Connecticut and that’s going to mean 30,000 new jobs in Connecticut,” she said.

She said the webinars will help achieve that goal by assisting some companies with breaking into the export business. However, Evans said the key is to expand the markets of the around 6,000 Connecticut companies already exporting.

“Those are the quickest return on investment in jobs. You want to get the company that’s maybe only selling to Canada to sell to Europe and Asia,” she said.

Merrill, the state’s chief business registrar, said there are over 100,000 businesses registered with her office which has been “bombarding” their emails with information on the webinars and other things. She said interested businesses can find more information on her website or the Commerce Department’s website.

The seminars will begin on Jan. 25 with a session on letters of credit to ensure companies are paid by their overseas customers. On Feb. 16, the second webinar will focus on export documentation, covering paperwork from U.S. Customs and the importing country.

Subsequent session will cover global defense market opportunities, the basics of export compliance, opportunities for farm and agriculture products, international standards and certifications, as well as a seminar on globalizing a company’s website. The date for those webinars have yet to be determined.