Commerce office opens in Fargo
The U.S. Department of Commerce has opened an office and stationed a trade specialist in Fargo to help businesses export their products around the world.
Heather Ranck said her office at 51 Broadway in downtown Fargo isn't finished yet, but she's taking calls from business leaders from across the state who want to expand their sales in foreign markets.
Ranck said her job includes researching market opportunities and helping businesses avoid the pitfalls that come with expanding into the global marketplace.
"We can serve as advocates on behalf of businesses in conflict with government regulators," she said. "The deals take place in the private sector, but governments are involved in trade."
With her comes business connections in 150 U.S. embassies in 87 countries, she said.
"All overseas embassies have a commercial service section and we're a part of that network," she said.
Ranck, 29, came to Fargo from Mozambique where she worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development. For 18 months she helped farmers in that African coastal country increase their production and form marketing cooperatives.
Ranck's work in North Dakota is part of a larger effort to expand the state's export sales, said Susan Geib, executive director of the North Dakota Trade Office.
The state Trade Office, a partnership of the state Department of Commerce and the private, nonprofit Export North Dakota, was created by the 2003 Legislature.
North Dakota ranks 46th in state exports of manufactured goods. The Trade Office was created to change that, said Geib, the former vice president and general manager of international business for Microsoft Business Solutions in Fargo.
Geib said North Dakota's exports total more than $3 billion a year. Crop sales account for $2 billion while machinery exports total nearly $500 million.
This year, the Legislature appropriated $800,000 to fund trade efforts.
Before $500,000 can be used, exporters are required to come up with a $250,000 match, Lt. Gov. Jack Dalrymple said.
Since March, the Trade Office has initiated a series of trade missions to tout North Dakota goods around the world.
Members of two missions to China and Japan collectively sold $4 million in farm commodities and other goods, Gov. John Hoeven has said.
But most of the Trade Office's work so far has been low key.
The office's three employees have held meetings with businesses across the state to identify exporters, potential exporters and their trade barriers, Geib said.
The Trade Office also has built a "reliable service network," of local law firms, banks, shippers and other service providers who have international connections, she said.
"It's about bringing a number of these organizations together and using their expertise to help facilitate better trade," she said.
Wells Fargo banks are part of the state's service network, said Jim Hambrick, business bank manager.
With overseas affiliates, Wells Fargo can help exporters check the credit of foreign customers, help design foreign pricing strategies and set up currency exchange accounts, Hambrick said.
In July, the Trade Office will hold a meeting to get all members of the trade service network together and talking, Geib said.
Jim Gunkelman, president of Ice Crystal Engineering in Davenport, said he has made quick use of the U.S. Commerce Department's Commercial Service Office in Fargo.
"I've called to have some potential customers checked out," said Gunkelman. "It's a great resource, especially when you're going into a new country."
Ice Crystal is the world's largest manufacturer of explosive flares used for weather modification. About 98 percent of the company's flares are shipped to foreign countries, he said.
"We actually ship explosives, so it gets to be very tricky," he said. "Anybody that's going to be doing business overseas can always use some help."
Ranck encourages North Dakota businesses interested in exporting their goods to call her at: (701) 361-3709.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Jeff Zent at (701) 241-5526