By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM — For two decades, a local company has made its mark around the world by capturing goofy, memorable images of people on film.
Couples, teenagers and families in 30 countries have hammed it up and posed for photographs in Innovative FOTO’s specially designed booths.
So when Congresswoman Ann Kuster, D-N.H., visited the small company on Industrial Way yesterday, she couldn’t resist posing as well.
As company officials urged her on, Kuster sat it in a booth and — using her hands — pretended she had moose antlers, drawing laughter as a camera snapped her photo.
“Oh, I’m going to regret that one,” she laughed.
Kuster stopped off at the 55-employee, research, design and manufacturing facility to tout legislation she has sponsored that would extend and expand the State Trade and Export Promotion program, known as STEP.
STEP helped dozens of New Hampshire companies, such as Innovative FOTO, expand their exports before funding for the program ran out Sept. 30, Kuster said. New Hampshire exports totaled more than $3.4 billion last year.
Kuster’s bill, the Small Business Growth Through Exports Act, would extend the program for three more years and double the federal funding available each year from $30 million to $60 million.
Companies can receive up to $5,000 in grant money through the program, which benefited 35 Granite State firms last year. Innovative FOTO was awarded $5,000 in 2012 and $1,100 this year.
Since the program began in 2010, approximately 60 New Hampshire companies have received $600,000 in matching grants.
STEP helps businesses attend international trade shows, fund export training programs, and assists with the development of international marketing materials, among other efforts to boost exports.
Kuster, a member of the House Small Business Committee, said the funding is needed if companies are going to continue to grow.
“Companies like Innovative FOTO have used STEP grants to expand their reach and send more of their products around the world,” she said.
Innovative FOTO officials said they hoped Kuster could help extend the program, which has benefited the company.
“We hope she can make more funds available,” said Scott Cavanagh, global marketing and trade manager.
President and CEO Dale Valvo said the grants help the company defray travel costs.
Innovative FOTO, which moved to Salem in 2006, recently started selling its photo booths in Chile, he said. The company has 3,000 booths in all 50 states and around the world.
“It is a great help to us,” Valvo said. “International travel isn’t cheap.”
Airfare to Chile alone costs 2,000 and a hotel room costs more than $300 a night, he said.
Valvo said his company is adapting to changing technology and keeping up with its customers’ needs. It employs 450 subcontractors around the world.
The industry has come a long way since the days of photo booths that just produced pocket-size photos.
The booths are commonly found at malls, amusement venues and also theaters, where they advertise movie trailers. Photo sessions cost $3 or $5.
Customers can now order strips of photos more than 2 feet long and 6 inches wide.
The booths even take video that can be downloaded through social media, including Facebook, Valvo said.
Kuster said she enjoyed touring a company that brings smiles to faces around the world.
“It’s wonderful to work in a business that makes people happy,” she said. “This is a great little company.”