Press Release: North Dakota Trade Office Hires New Executive Director

Press Release: North Dakota Trade Office Hires New Executive Director

Posted on December 26, 2019

The North Dakota Trade Office (NDTO) is pleased to announce that after an extensive search process, current team member Drew Combs has accepted the role of Executive Director. He will lead and manage the administration, programs and strategic vision plan for the NDTO. Drew has nearly two decades of international and domestic experience in agriculture and energy, and has lived and worked in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

"Drew has the knowledge, experience and passion to lead the North Dakota Trade Office," said Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford, NDTO's chairman of the board of directors. "We're especially excited about his background in agriculture and energy - pillars of North Dakota's economy - as well as his experience in logistics, a vital issue for our exporters."

Drew joined the NDTO in August 2019 as a Business Development Executive. Prior to his involvement with NDTO, he was Director of Minerals Management at the North Dakota Department of Trust Lands for over eight years. He has also consulted and worked with agricultural as well as oil and gas companies both domestically and internationally and gained a reputation for helping companies succeed in extremely complex and challenging markets.

"I am honored that our board, comprised of business and government leaders, selected me for this position," said Combs. "I look forward to leading a team dedicated to making a positive difference in North Dakota and its businesses while empowering people to expand trade across all borders." A proud veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Drew has a Bachelor's of Science Degree in political science and history from West Texas A&M University, and a Master's Degree in Energy Business with a logistics focus from the University of Tulsa.

The North Dakota Trade Office is a membership-based, private/public partnership founded in 2004 that provides education, research, advocacy, organization, and leadership so that NDTO members and North Dakota companies can increase exports and grow their international business.

Guyana’s Economy to Rapidly Expand

Guyana’s Economy to Rapidly Expand

Posted on December 5, 2019

Guyana is creating a buzz as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that the country’s GDP will increase by a whopping 86% in 2020, an unprecedentedly high number and up from its 4.4% estimate in 2019. The only English-speaking country in South America is preparing for an economic boom after it’s set to become the 4th largest oil producer in Latin America when drilling begins in early 2020.

According to the IMF, the country’s oil revenues will climb from nil to $631 million by 2024. That number could reach into the billions as production ramps up. With a population roughly the same as North Dakota, the country will likely become the world’s largest oil producer (and wealthiest) per capita.

Guyana’s history includes colonization by both the Dutch and British. English is the official language and is used for business and education, however the majority of people also speak Creolese – a mixture of English and anglicized French – informally. The country’s culture has more in common with the Caribbean than South America.

The Guyanese predominately live on the coast and about half are in or near the capital, Georgetown. The vast majority of land is forest, including some of the continent’s largest areas of unspoiled rainforest.

By most accounts, the country does not have a plan in motion for its impending windfall other than a framework on paper to lift its population out of poverty. Its infrastructure needs massive improvement, as does its educational and health systems.

As it grapples with sudden wealth, Guyana’s administration hopes to achieve what other resource-rich nations, including its neighbor Venezuela, have not – wealth without ruin.

Export Education at Your Fingertips

Export Education at Your Fingertips

Posted on December 5, 2019

A well-organized, rich library of export education courses is at your fingertips right now with NDTO’s eLearning Portal. The eLearning Portal is accessed through NDTO’s website and is powered by Amber Road’s Global Trade Academy. Courses are updated regularly, and achievements are tracked on an individual basis.

NDTO’s eLearning Portal has three levels – Introductory, Intermediate and Advanced. Subjects include the Harmonized Tariff Schedule, EU vs US export controls, customs processes, export control and compliance, import compliance, free trade agreements and much more.

Each course has a detailed description, estimated time to complete, and is led by an instructor with in-depth knowledge and experience in that topic.

Amber Road’s Global Trade Academy designed these courses to ensure attendees are provided with current information and resources to efficiently and compliantly manage international supply chain operations.

NDTO offers the eLearning Portal to those that wish to educate themselves, their team, or improve career prospects.

The courses are even approved for continuing education credits through the National Customs Brokers & Forwarders Association of America.

NDTO’s eLearning Portal is free to NDTO members.

To get started, NDTO members may go to the Member Login page. Non-members may email to sign up.

When in Rome: Countries that Don’t Like to Say ‘No’

When in Rome: Countries that Don’t Like to Say ‘No’

Posted on December 5, 2019

Americans are known for being direct negotiators and saying no when they mean it, but this style of communication isn’t popular in the world. There are many countries in which saying no is frowned upon. Here we’ll look at a number of cultures that may say yes when they mean no, and how to find out if your negotiating counterparts fall under this category.

NDTO’s When in Rome series examines cultural issues that may affect exporters including business card etiquette, gift giving, small talk around the world and alcohol and business.

The first country on our list that doesn’t like to say no is Chile. Chilean culture values “saving face” and thus will not give negative feedback. Instead of no, you may hear maybe or possibly, or your Chilean customer may fall silent. If it’s your turn to offer a negative response, you’re encouraged to echo this practice in order to remain polite. If there is a negative issue to be discussed, a private conversation with the appropriate person is the way to go.

Thais literally cannot say no as the word doesn’t directly translate into their language. Rather, there is a phrase that means “not yes.” It’s important to pay attention to non-verbal communication in Thailand and any pauses in conversation, as they may be used to bypass saying no. Your negotiation counterpart may ignore a question or “not understand” a question instead of saying no. Pay close attention to your customers’ smile – it’s used to convey many things, including approval, displeasure and embarrassment.

Egyptians are more likely to give ambiguous answers than say no. You may hear, “We’ll think about it,” or “We’ll look into this” or even silence when the real answer is no. A yes may also be a softer way of saying maybe. It’s wise to adapt the same manner or risk appearing rude.

People in the United Arab Emirates also don’t like to give direct refusals. They may say yes to delay the negotiation or convey it’s possible. Further discussions are needed to clarify. This may vary when dealing with large multi-national companies that favor more direct communication.

Kenyan businesspeople are interested in preserving their own dignity as well as yours and will avoid giving negative answers, especially in a group setting. If there is an issue with the deal, they may tell you no by way of a metaphor or a story.

The common thread here is that businesspeople from these countries don’t want anyone to feel embarrassed or lose face, so they’d rather set the deal aside than reject it. This could be an opportunity for you to reevaluate your offer, or further develop the relationship to achieve more understanding.

These cultural cues as well as a ton of country-specific cultural information can be found on NDTO’s website within the A to Z World Trade Reference. Simply go to NDTO’s website and click on Member Login. If you’re new to NDTO, contact for access.

Boost your Business with an Export Assistant

Boost your Business with an Export Assistant

Posted on November 7, 2019

The North Dakota Trade Office currently has openings available for companies that would like to be matched with an export assistant. An export assistant is a talented NDSU graduate student that is seeking real-world experience at a company doing international business. Companies that employ export assistants gain a skilled team member in areas such as sales, logistics, accounting and computer science. The company may specify the skills, language and experience desired, and NDTO and NDSU will recruit accordingly.

Since 2006, the NDTO has identified, screened and placed graduate students, who are often international students, within North Dakota businesses looking to expand their global business opportunities.

North Dakota companies employ export assistants as a strategy to bring additional experience, country expertise and foreign language skills into their business. The program benefits the students as well as they receive a tuition waiver and intern wages from the company.

Export Assistants may work up to 20 hours per week during the school year and up to 40 hours per week when school is not in session. Students may work remotely if the company is not in the Fargo area.

The Export Assistant program has been highly successful with students hailing from countries near and far lauded for their contributions to the North Dakota workforce. The Export Assistant Program is open to all NDTO members.

For more information or if your company is interested in utilizing an export assistant, please visit or contact

WMI ID’s potential markets with RAISE research

WMI ID’s potential markets with RAISE research

Posted on November 7, 2019

When you quite literally have a world of choices, it’s helpful to narrow things down. That’s exactly why NDTO member Weather Modification International recently sought out the US Commercial Service - North Dakota (CS North Dakota) office’s RAISE research program. The RAISE program is able to complete a worldwide scan of potential markets and determine the top countries on which a company should focus their exporting efforts. So far, Weather Modification International’s RAISE research project results are impressive and the cost quite low, especially considering that they used an NDTO grant program to support it.

Weather Modification International (WMI) is a Fargo-based atmospheric research and cloud seeding company. They’re long-time exporters but are always seeking new frontiers in terms of business opportunities.

Alexandre Cyusa, who is part of the business development team at WMI, began the project by working with CS North Dakota office’s Heather Ranck and her team of export assistants. WMI supplied the research team with keywords and other criteria, and the team produced a worldwide country matrix that identified the best potential markets.

“RAISE was really helpful because there’s an ocean of possibilities,” said Cyusa. “But the research helped us narrow it down to targeted, specific countries.”

One of the target countries was Brazil, a country that WMI has long been interested in, but has proven difficult to penetrate.

With Brazil in focus, the RAISE research team came up with lists of local companies that may be potential buyers or potential partners in-country.

WMI selected five companies and the CS Brazil office then reached out to those companies to gauge their interest level. So far, WMI has begun relationships with several of those local companies and is positive they’ll soon have a partner in Brazil.

WMI was also able to support their research efforts by using NDTO’s State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) to reimburse up to 75% of the costs. STEP is open to all North Dakota small businesses and is currently accepting applications for reimbursement of RAISE project fees.

“We used RAISE to really guide our approach and keep a local lens on business development. Heather’s team is stellar, they made our experience stress-free and we felt included in the process,” said Cyusa. “Now in Brazil, we’ve got a nice momentum.”

To get started with RAISE, please click here. For more information on STEP and to apply for reimbursement for RAISE program research, please visit To learn more about Weather Modification International, please visit

NDTO Awarded Specialty Crop Grant 2019

NDTO Awarded Specialty Crop Grant 2019

Posted on November 7, 2019

The North Dakota Trade Office has officially been awarded Specialty Crop Block Grant 2019 funds for its project, “Establishing World Markets for Upper Midwest Specialty Crops.” This project has a total of $252,249 available for specialty crop exporters to participate in NDTO-led trade missions to the Middle East, Central America and South America.

Establishing World Markets for Upper Midwest Specialty Crops focuses on expanding exports of beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils or any specialty crop as defined by USDA here.  Funds for this project are provided by the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant program and are administered by the North Dakota Department of Agriculture.

NDTO-led trade missions under this project include attendance at the Gulfood Show and an Egypt Trade Mission February 14-26, 2020, as well as a trade mission to South and Central America (dates and locations to be determined). Specialty crop funds will reimburse travel expenses associated with these missions.

If your company is interested in participating, please contact Jiwon Kim at For questions on applying for grants funds, please contact Rebecca Espinoza at

Drew Combs Joins NDTO

Drew Combs Joins NDTO

Posted on October 3, 2019

The North Dakota Trade Office is thrilled to announce that we have a new team member! Drew Combs is NDTO’s newest business development executive and is strategically located in our Bismarck office to assist the western portion of the state. Drew has nearly two decades of international and domestic experience in agriculture and energy, and has lived and worked in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Prior to his involvement with the North Dakota Trade Office, he worked at the North Dakota Department of Trust Lands as the Director of Minerals Management, where he assisted in managing 2.6 million acres, most of which was within the Williston Basin.

Drew grew up raising beef cattle, and his first foray into the international marketplace was importing cattle from Europe and Africa. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science and history from West Texas A&M, as well as a master’s degree in energy business from the University of Tulsa and is working on his proficiency in Arabic. He has a son and daughter with his wife Jannelle, and is a proud veteran of the United States Marine Corps.

International Market Research Covered by STEP grant

International Market Research Covered by STEP grant

Posted on October 3, 2019

If you’re looking for a new way to find target markets and potential buyers for your small business, look no further. NDTO’s STEP program now reimburses costs for international market research provided by the U.S Commercial Service-ND office’s RAISE program.

The Rural America’s Intelligence Service for Exporters (RAISE) program is a nine-step process that produces a worldwide market comparison matrix based on your company’s products and preferences. The matrix highlights the top countries with the best potential for your product, and from these your company chooses the countries where buyers, competitors, market players, industry trends and live prospects will be identified. Finally, a strategy is developed to tackle one or several of the top markets.

The NDTO’s STEP program covers up to 75% of RAISE fees, which start at $495. The STEP program is funded in part through a grant from the Small Business Administration and is designed to assist small businesses in growing their international exports. For more information on STEP and to apply for reimbursement for RAISE program research, please visit To get started with RAISE, please visit

Press Release: SBA awards North Dakota $326,865 State Trade Expansion Program Grant

Press Release: SBA awards North Dakota $326,865 State Trade Expansion Program Grant

Posted on September 19, 2019

FARGO, N.D. - The U.S. Small Business Administration announced that the North Dakota Trade Office (NDTO) will receive a $326,865 grant to support export growth among small businesses through SBA's competitive State Trade Expansion Program (STEP). This year's grant amount is a $79,251 increase over the dollars awarded in 2018.

"This year's increase in STEP grant funding allows additional opportunities for companies to either begin exporting or expand their current export operations," said Lindsey Warner, NDTO's director of marketing and events. "STEP grant funding helps companies travel to international markets as well as obtain access to in-depth market research provided by the U.S. Commercial Service office in Fargo."

The NDTO's STEP ND 2019 program will reimburse eligible North Dakota companies for expenses paid during international business activities, including foreign market sales trips, research and NDTO-led trade missions.

"SBA is proud to partner with the STEP grant winners and provide much-needed resources that help small businesses increase their sales by exporting," said Acting Administrator Chris Pilkerton. "These grants are especially helpful as our country is in the midst of negotiating a number of trade agreements, including one between the United States-Mexico-Canada (USMCA). All of the Administration's work is aimed at modernizing and creating a better deal for America's consumers, businesses, including small businesses, and workers. The SBA's STEP partners not only help entrepreneurs increase and diversify their customer base; they also help to create and retain local jobs."

Today, trade represents nearly 58% of the world's $80 trillion economy, and 95% of the world's consumers are located outside the United States. Exporting is an important way for U.S. small businesses to grow revenue and boost local economies. STEP is designed to assist states with increasing the number of small businesses that export and the value of those exports.

"It is a little known fact that 98 percent of America's exports are driven by small firms that sell their products and services globally," said SBA Regional Administrator Dan Nordberg. "This federal STEP grant ensures that small businesses in North Dakota will have the tools necessary to expand and market their home grown products and services to international markets.  North Dakota has been a leader in supporting the export potential of small businesses and we're honored to partner with them once again on this important endeavor."

The 2019 STEP awards will help North Dakota assist their small businesses with the information and tools they need to succeed in export-related activities. Exporting activities include: participating in foreign trade missions and foreign market sales trips, obtaining services provided by the U.S. Department of Commerce, accessing expertise in designing international marketing campaigns and export trade show exhibits, and participating in training workshops, as well as other important means of engagement.

"I'm glad to see the North Dakota Trade Office receive another STEP Grant to assist North Dakota companies with expansion in the global marketplace," said SBA North Dakota District Director Al Haut. "The increased award shows SBA's commitment to helping our rural small businesses succeed."

Expanding the base of small business exporters and improving the process to explore new trade opportunities is a key component of SBA's small business strategy. Since 2011, the STEP program has awarded approximately $157 million in grants to fund export opportunities and increase the footprint of small businesses in countries all over the world.

Individual STEP awards are managed at the local level by state government organizations. The U.S. Small Business Administration's Office of International Trade administers the STEP awards at the national level.

How to Apply

The program will accept applications for activities occurring from September 30, 2019 through September 29, 2021. Selection of companies will be first-come-first-served, based on pre-approval of their STEP ND program application and export expansion plan. Any North Dakota small business as defined under SBA guidelines is eligible to apply. Information and applications for STEP ND 2019 will be available by September 30, 2019 on the NDTO website at

NDTO will facilitate STEP ND 2019 with the help of partners including North Dakota District Office of the SBA, North Dakota Small Business Development Center (SBDC), North Dakota Department of Agriculture, North Dakota Department of Commerce and the U.S. Commercial Service.

About the North Dakota Trade Office and Small Business Administration

The North Dakota Trade Office is a membership-based, private/public partnership that provides education, research, advocacy, organization, and leadership so that NDTO members and North Dakota companies can increase exports and grow their international business.

The U.S. Small Business Administration makes the American dream of business ownership a reality. As the only go-to resource and voice for small businesses backed by the strength of the federal government, the SBA empowers entrepreneurs and small business owners with the resources and support they need to start, grow or expand their businesses, or recover from a declared disaster. It delivers services through an extensive network of SBA field offices and partnerships with public and private organizations. To learn more visit