Member Profile: EZ Spot UR

Member Profile: EZ Spot UR

Posted on January 6, 2021

Earl Emerson has built EZ Spot UR from the ground up, harnessing the many years of life lessons he's collected along the way to bring forth this successful business.  EZ Spot UR is pronounced "easy spot-er." The name is in reference to one of their attachments that enables you to "easily spot" and park using their hitch attachment. The "UR" references the birthplace of civilization, Emerson says. The city of Ur thrived in early Mesopotamia with its convenient location in the mouth of the Euphrates river, with abundant opportunities for trade and a fertile landscape.

One of the first successful tools was built out of need, just like all the future EZ Sport UR attachments."A buddy and I built a sandbagger attachment for the skid steer to pick and dump sand out through chutes directly into the hands of sandbaggers," explains Emerson. This equipment proved to be more efficient, and they started thinking of more opportunities for attachments that could "reduce the man in manual labor," says Emerson.   He worked for Bobcat at the time, where he was able to test and receive feedback for the Speed Bagger.  Emerson continued to be inventive with integrating functional attachments to skid steers. "It's a valuable tool (the skid steer), but most people were just digging holes with it," and building attachments for those valuable tools has grown into a successful business.  The direct uses for his attachments have proven themselves repeatedly.

Emerson talked specifically about their products showing strength and versatility for one element that impacts everyday life, an element that you are using right now... electricity!  It is not uncommon for the poles carrying valuable electricity to be destroyed or fall out of place during ice storms. The Pole Setter attachment can out-maneuver many large truck alternatives to place these large poles faster and more effectively, especially in hard to reach areas. The electricity grids are also expanding globally, and EZ Spot UR has showcased its products' value for a wide variety of projects.

EZ Spot UR's attachments are created from client need, and they have a whole team willing to work on getting a company what it needs to be effective in what they do best. More recently, the EZ Spot UR team has worked with law-enforcement for tactical equipment and a variety of other useful attachments.  "When a product's got value, and people see that value, it will sell itself," says Emerson. He explains that major manufacturers will not often build custom attachments, and they certainly can't do it cost-effectively. "We have a wealth of knowledge here [Fargo area] with three collages right in our backyard, a whole wealth of people, and we have to tap into that. I have been working with an engineer from NDSU. He grew up with me in this business, learning together and now he is a valuable asset." Earl goes on to say that he utilizes many local resources such as the North Dakota Trade Office and professors at NDSU that helped him from exporting to pricing his products for the markets. With so much talent in the FM area,  he likes to give them opportunities.

As Emerson continued talking and jumping from topic to topic with ease, it was apparent that he had so much life experience behind his voice. Much of which is present in how EZ Spot UR operates, how it came to be, and what the future holds. Here are a couple of life lessons from Emerson that have brought him success over the years.

  • "Treat your business like a baby." That means that you have to be one hundred percent committed, feeding it at 2 am, keeping it clean, making sure it has all the right tools to get through the day. As you watch it grow up, you can let go, little by little, and you will see your influence. So, be sure to give it strong values, and Emerson explains.
  • "I learned two things in the army.  To get up and go to work and do a good job when you get there."
  • "There are opportunities out there all the time, but you have to recognize them and be brave enough to take them ."
  • "Effort is key. You gotta' put in the effort and stick with it"

When it comes to exporting, Emerson also had some learned lessons. He described a 'rookie mistake' he once made with his first international order. "I had my first international order –  it was for 25 attachments to Africa –  and I made a mistake and built them all. Then the order fell through," he says with a chuckle. Now, EZ Spot UR exports across the globe, with many attachments going to Canada, Australia, China, India, and Japan. The company continues to see increases in sales as more rural countries connect to the power grid, and the attachments often require less capital than larger trucks that only do one job.

Keeping EZ Spot UR as a local operation is important to Emerson, having grown up in this community and tapping into the vast amount of local talent here in North Dakota. Building this company has not been a "me, me, me" type operation.  Emerson explains that he lives comfortably, and he takes the responsibility to ensure that his team can provide for their families very seriously. He believes that not cutting corners, providing solid, well-built attachments with proven value will go a long way to keeping the company thriving for many years to come.

For more information on EZ Spot UR, visit their

From Export Assistant to Business Owner

From Export Assistant to Business Owner

Posted on January 6, 2021

We caught up with Franco Weisser, who previously participated in the NDTO Export Assistant Program, working at Titan Machinery, and was hired full-time after graduation. This spring, Franco decided to move back to Chile and start his own business selling agricultural machinery and spare parts in South America.

He has an obvious enthusiasm for ag machinery, and these passions stem from his father. He remembers that his dad could fix anything while working on a variety of farms in Chile, so, Franco grew up around big farms and their equipment, which inspired his future. Taking that love further, he graduated from the University of Concepción with a soil sciences master's degree. His first introduction to Fargo, ND, was in 2012. While studying for his master's,  he participated in a four-month collaborative program with North Dakota State University (NDSU) to further his studies. Franco returned to Fargo in 2014 to pursue an additional master's in International Agribusiness at NDSU and became an Export Assistant with the North Dakota Trade Office (NDTO). He completed the assistantship with Titan, working on their international sales team, and then was hired full time after graduation.

"I loved Fargo, and I loved working for Titan. They trusted me, and I appreciated so many of the experiences I was afforded," Franco says as he reflects on his program.  He did not particularly favor learning through textbooks, and that is why his assistantship with Titan was so valuable. He says that working with Titan made him feel very connected.

"I never felt like I was a student. I always talked with people at other companies in other countries, which made me feel connected to the business. You will learn a lot of "theory" in school, but if you have the opportunity to connect with people and be in the market at the same time, it is a priceless experience!"

Because of the program, he learned so much more about the agricultural machinery industry with hands-on experience with fixing equipment, dealing with customers directly, and working with real people, practicing his industry and language skills on the job.

"Fargo is a paradise for anyone interested in ag machinery," he says, and he wanted to learn as much as he could about ag machinery. Titan provided opportunities for Franco to follow his passion. When he told his supervisor that he wanted more experience in fixing equipment (as this would be essential for his dream to start his own business in Chile), they set him up with their Moorhead dealership for some training with a mechanic.

Franco credits his experience as an export assistant, paired with working for Titan for several years, has opened too many doors for him. Although it has been a tough year for so many, Franco set out on his own in early 2020. After recognizing a niche market for a one-of-kind customer service approach and responsiveness to clients, he is building an ag machinery and parts business in South America. This past year, he has proven that his company, Weisser Equipment & Machinery, will be successful.  As the pandemic conditions improve, Franco is looking forward to getting out into the industry and working with more people to ensure they have quality parts, products, and a smooth overall experience.

Happy to be back in Chile and working on his dream job, he couldn't let me go without turning his phone around to show a panorama of his beautiful view of the Andes Mountains from home. He missed the mountains while in Fargo and now can orient himself properly with their presence. Franco always wanted to come back to Chile, and now with such a great foundation, there are so many new opportunities ahead.

We wish him well, thank him again for his participation in the NDTO Export Assistant Program, and look forward to working with him in the future.

How Foreign-Trade Zones can Benefit You

How Foreign-Trade Zones can Benefit You

Posted on January 6, 2021

There is at least one Foreign-Trade Zone (FTZ) in every US state, and they can be a powerhouse for streamlining many processes and saving money in businesses that are importing and exporting. FTZs are geographic locations designed to sit outside of US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) territory. Benefits of FTZs can include reduced, delayed, or maybe even no duty costs, streamlined logistics, and supply chains, decreased Customs filings, and potentially inverted or reduced tariffs.

North Dakota is home to two FTZs, Grand Forks (#103) and Fargo (#267). Both qualify as general-purpose FTZs, operating as public utilities that can have several services to multiple users.

FTZs essentially operate as if they are on foreign soil. They are specifically designated geographic areas that operate outside of the US. Goods within the Zones have not cleared by US Customs procedures for import into the US. FTZs can house several types of approved operations to handle and manipulate these goods for end users without officially entering US markets. A few examples of allowed activities within an FTZ are warehousing, manufacturing, assembly, processing, labeling, repairing, salvaging, and even testing goods. Companies may hold products in the FTZ until they are re-exported to another country or make their way into US markets.

Therefore, products can be imported without clearing US Customs or paying taxes/duties and re-exported to another country. If the products' end market is the US, Customs duties are then paid upon entry into the US market.  Keep in mind, however, the FTZs are still subject to federal, state, and local laws.  The Zones are typically adjacent to Customs Ports of Entry but remain outside of the US's commerce activity.  According to US Foreign-Trade Zone Board, in 2019, more than 200 communities have an FTZ that employs more than 420,000 people across the US.

In 1934, The Foreign Trade Zones Act in the Roosevelt administration was passed to "expedite and encourage foreign commerce" in the US. Merchandise of all descriptions can be held in the Zone without being subject to Customs duties and other such taxes.  By the 1950s, the FTZ Act was updated to include manufacturing activities within the Zones, which vastly increased their popularity and cost-effectiveness. Additional updates were needed to make FTZs more competitive. In the 1980s, the National Association of Foreign-Trade Zones (NAFTZ) had convinced the US Customs Service that manufactured goods in the FTZ should not be assessed by the value-added in the US (domestic parts, labor, overhead, and materials). With this update, FTZs would encourage reinvestment in the Zones' activities in the US, making a more even playing field for global trade.

Benefits of an FTZ:

The benefits of an FTZ can vary based on the activities and authority of the FTZ itself. FTZs may provide the following benefits.

  • Exemption or deferral of duties can apply in and FTZs. Tax or duties are applied by the end market, not within the FTZ itself.
  • Re-exporting a product without paying duties.
  • There can be a reduction in Merchandise Processing Fees (MPF), which are based on an item's value and often outside of the fees from duties/taxes incurred on import.
  • Inverted tariffs are possible depending on the operation and the manipulation of the product within the FTZ.  If the products were coming into the US market, the manufacturer would pay the end-product tariff, which is often lower than each individual component.
  • Logistics and reporting can be streamlined with consistent and potentially fewer reporting obligations.
  • Transportation costs can also be reduced by not moving goods as far or as much with a designated FTZ.
  • Security requirements and CBP supervision may reduce companies' overall insurance costs due to increased security.

There may already be an FTZ near you; here is a list of all the FTZs in the US. Existing FTZs can be a great resource to better understand how your company can benefit.

How do you apply and establish an FTZ?

Establishing an FTZ has been a lengthy process in the past. More recently, the FTZ Board has streamlined its process for a quicker, more user-friendly approach. The FTZ Board processes applications and approves the FTZ for operations. Once approved, the CBP office will need to be contacted for official activation.  CBP will conduct background investigations of key personnel, review the site's inventory control systems and security procedure to assess the site for full activation. Applications types, processing, and summary documents can be found on the International Trade Administration's FTZ website.

Overlooking opportunities an FTZ could provide a company that frequently exports may be costly over time. By maximizing the potential of an FTZ, companies can see a variety of benefits and harness the power of their surroundings and the movement of goods. If you have more exporting questions, feel free to reach out to the team at the North Dakota Trade Office.

Helpful Resources:

CBP Foreign-Trade Zone Website (includes links to FAQ, FTZ Manual, and more)

US Foreign-Trade Zone Board Annual Report

International Trade Administrations FTZ

Member Profile: Healthy Oilseeds

Member Profile: Healthy Oilseeds

Posted on December 3, 2020

Twenty-three countries and still counting, says Roger Gussiaas, owner of Healthy Oilseeds. We virtually sat down with Gussiaas and his sister and Sales Associate, Karen Gussiaas-Smith, for insights on their exporting success and their passion for Healthy Oilseeds and its products.

The Gussiaas' have been farming for several generations, but Healthy Oilseeds itself started in 2002. "Every business has a story, and often it is the unique people that make those stories come to life," Karen says, and Roger jokes, "and Karen loves stories, but it really has made a difference to tell our story." The story of Healthy Oilseeds has a lively spirit full of passion and a drive to do better. Rogers' son, Brock Gussiaas, passed away unexpectedly in 2014. "Brock is the heart of the company. He had a business mind, loved his work, loved working with dad, and to see the progress of seeds all the way to the finished product," says Karen.  Roger adds, "His heart and soul are still with this company. It drives this company to do better… he is with us every day, helping us overcome difficult things." This passion is present in everything Healthy Oilseeds does.

The company has grown to reach 23 countries worldwide, and with this momentum, they keep looking for more opportunities to expand. Healthy Oilseeds has employees from Kazakhstan, Moldova, Spain, and Columbia who are quintessential to doing business overseas and understanding each market's intricacies. Roger's wife, Nurgul, originally from Kazakhstan, is an integral part of the company working with the third-party Primus food safety certification. She is also vital in the day-to-day operations, from working in the office to operating a forklift to ensure shipments make it all over the world.

When asked how Healthy Oilseeds got into exporting, Roger replied that there were only two ways to gain wealth for an area, "that is tourism or exporting. We didn't think tourism would work well in Carrington.  I thought exporting might bring in more dollars, so, we started exporting in 2002." Roger and Karen's father was always impressed by exporters, and Brock saw the potential as well. With those two inventive spirits and Roger's drive, Healthy Oilseeds has had abundant success exporting.

The Gussiaas family has grown more than 25 different crops over the years and have taken each as a learning experience. They lean more towards specialized crops with ND grown flaxseed, hempseed, and borage rather than corn and soybeans. The company has achieved Primus Global Food Safety Certification, Certified Organic, and Kosher to ensure their products are superior in quality. They want to ensure transparency and let consumers know exactly what they are purchasing to build trust in Healthy Oilseeds' products.

The company started growing hempseed in 2016, as another very healthy oilseed, and it would complement the processing and marketing of flaxseed. Healthy Oilseeds' presses for oil are now running 24/7 for hempseed and other oils. The benefits of hempseeds are not only seen in humans, but also help horse owners remedy some common problems including digestion, skin ailments, and overall joint health of horses. Beyond edible seeds and oils, there is an increasing demand, (especially with the quality certifications) for ingredients in environmentally friendly cosmetics, skincare, soaps, and even artistic paints.

Karen, a former family and consumer science teacher, spoke about the impact of going on trade missions and what a great experience it is. "These opportunities just open our eyes to the whole world of how food comes to our tables, that something in ND can make a difference globally. I taught farm to table lessons, but now with this global perspective, it shows me how North Dakota can grow food the whole world needs." Exporting can open new opportunities globally, and some of the best ways to do that, Karen says, is to explore, go on a trade mission, meet people, and see how your company can impact more broadly. "There are more market opportunities if you look beyond your borders and your products can often be sold at higher prices," Roger points out.  Although it has its own challenges, getting into exporting can be a very rewarding experience with the right team and passion guiding you, both Roger and Karen agree.

Roger has a reputation for giving back and doing what it takes to get the job done. He firmly believes in passing down knowledge. He says, "It feels good to share, and we all lack knowledge in one way or another. Everyone needs help, and we all have to give back. We all take it, so we have to give it too." Karen highlights, "when I see Roger present at conferences or talk to others, I am impressed by all those who look up to him and how many people go to him for advice. She describes an excellent farmer in central ND that Roger helped with his harvest this fall. Roger pitched in and went to help with the harvest because that is what needed to get done. Roger also appreciates the opportunity to experience combining of hemp since it can be a challenging crop to harvest.

The company continues its local engagement with a University of Jamestown marketing group, an internship with a Concordia College student, and even a high-school student who all offer their talents and get real-world experience. "They tell us when things are working… we can learn a lot from young people. Especially the direction of the consumer," says Roger. He emphasizes that the younger generations will determine the consumers' wants and Healthy Oilseeds benefits from seeing what the younger generations like, what they are interested in. "It's fun to see the energy and enthusiasm of youth. Then you are connected to see where their lives go. As a teacher, I love working with young people and seeing them grow!" adds Karen. The students they work with have great ideas and point them in new directions on how to engage with different generations, what things should look like, or how they expect them to work. Healthy Oilseeds places a high value on young voices and loves to tap into the passion that many have for life.

What's next for Healthy Oilseeds? Well, country twenty-four, of course! They have been lucky with low impact from the coronavirus on their business and look forward to new opportunities in the Caribbean and maybe even New Zealand.

Let’s Keep Exporting, ND

Let’s Keep Exporting, ND

Posted on December 3, 2020

Funding available for virtual missions, shows, and introductions.

The North Dakota Trade Office (NDTO) has funding available for your exporting business, both travel and non-travel options. As we all continue to navigate through this challenging environment, NDTO is here to help.  We fund export opportunities through STEP ND from the Small Business Administration (SBA) and Specialty Crop Block Grants from the ND Department of Agriculture.

Meeting new contacts and making new connections are pillars to exporting. While the way we do business has been reimagined, there are still many ways to keep business flowing. Everything is going virtual, as I am sure you have noticed, and so has our funding. Many more virtual opportunities are now available, and our programs have been updated to serve you better. Approved projects now include virtual trade missions, virtual introductions, virtual trade shows, and Gold Key services.

Virtual Opportunities

Virtual Trade Shows: These can be great spaces, literally, virtual spaces that you can create a booth with marketing materials, signs, posters, videos, and literature available for potential buyers. Your company will have the ability to interact with many different participants, show-goers and often virtually walk around or visit other booths throughout the show. It’s a bit like walking through a videogame.

Virtual Trade Missions: Trade missions are a more focused approach to business with pre-screened potential buyers and sellers matched with similar interests and industries. Typically, there are multiple face-to-face meetings scheduled with specific buyers from one region or location. Interpreters can be made available if needed. This setup provides several opportunities to get to know each other, ask questions, and present your products in a more targeted approach.

Virtual Introductions: With a virtual introduction, you are provided with a direct introduction to a potential buyer after research and selection have been completed and agreed upon by both parties. NDTO can assist with virtual introductions and market research to connect your company with meaningful contacts. Introductions are a direct approach to meeting with a specific person with the intent of building a relationship.  

USCS Gold Key Services: The US Commercial Services Gold Key service provides up to five pre-screened appointments with sales representatives, business partners, and local entities in a chosen country. There are a variety of options and pricing available with these services that can be found here.


There are many benefits to taking a virtual approach, and as
the technology gets even better, the value of these interactions will increase

  • Time will be one of the largest benefits; no need to have key employees traveling across the globe for weeks. With a targeted approach, there is a specific time commitment.
  • Exploration, for a relatively low-cost, a variety of countries and companies can be engaged to understand their interest in what your company may have to offer. Take this as an opportunity to explore and learn more about other markets.
  • Focused priorities while not spending hours on a variety of potential buyers. Some virtual options provide a targeted approach to meetings, and objectives allowing you to focus on those key issues.
  • Expenses with virtual options are lower compared to physical travel options. Many of these opportunities can be made more affordable with the available grant funding from the NDTO.
  • Building relationships in a virtual setting will jumpstart any in-person meetings for the future. Creating rapport before traveling to the new market will go a long way to making meaningful progress in business dealings.

Funding Available

The NDTO has funding available for the activities mentioned above, and we would be happy to assist in keeping your exports moving. The funding depends on product type, and business eligibility determined by guidelines from the Small Business Administration or ND Department of Agriculture. The eligible projects are reimbursable at 75%, with the company buy-in at 25%. With STEP funding, the cap of five activities has been removed to aid utilization. For more information and to connect with our team, please reach out to and review NDTO grant opportunities here.

Although none of these options is truly is better than
meeting face-to-face, these virtual interactions are the first steps to forging
new bonds and making new connections that may eventually lead to sales. There
will come a time when an in-person meeting will need to happen, and when it
does, you will not have to start the relationship from scratch. With so many
virtual opportunities available, NDTO is happy to help support your endeavor to
keep meeting people, keep moving your business forward, and continue working
towards your export goals.

Researching Your Way to Market Expansion

Researching Your Way to Market Expansion

Posted on December 3, 2020

For any company growing and expanding into new markets, it can bring up all kinds of feelings from apprehension to zeal! The potential of new opportunities can bring about great new connections and increased success if done with intention.

To expand your business into new markets, we have put together a few items to keep in mind as you investigate future opportunities. Expansion can come in all shapes and sizes; maybe it adds another product line to your business or sells your products to a whole new country!

The First thing to consider when expanding into new markets is what you want to accomplish. Are you wanting to create a new type of product, get into a new or similar industry, or reach beyond your usual borders?  With these questions answered, development of an export plan can begin, and then move forward in exploration and research opportunities.

Research is the most important step in determining the next move for expansion. There are many services, data, and statistical analysis tools at little to no cost that might provide insights into initial market opportunities. The decisions here must be made with data in mind. Often, we want to find some untapped market or hidden gem that no one has discovered to help the company break out into unfathomable success. These dreams need to be supported by good solid research,  discipline, and reliable data.

Once there are some options for ideal markets or locations with good potential for your business to thrive, it is time to do a little more research. Narrow down your vision and get into the specifics of what products, ideas, or details are needed to succeed in one of those markets. Now, it might be the time to connect with a consultant or paid service to help define your market and vision that is right for your company. These types of services can have access to in-depth research, data, regional expertise, and experience to guide you into the future.

Harvard Business Review's Growth Outside the Core recaps some of Nike's efforts in business expansion through a variety of markets, with new customers, geographic, and products. "The first time Nike did this, it undoubtedly struggled with the inherent complexity of making so many moves, but as it repeated the process again and again, managers learned to execute consistently." Not that all companies are Nike, but the process is much the same, looking at various angles and determining what may yield a successful outcome. Keep in mind that businesses are not successful on their first or even fifth attempt at market expansion, which is why the research is so important. In the Harvard Business Review study, there were more than 1800 companies reviewed for their expansion efforts over five years. The two things that all of them had in common were good foundational research and discipline to their mission.

Finding that new market is only half the battle as market expansion is two-sided. Now, convincing the new market that your company is a good fit,  is a whole other challenge. With this new market in mind, updates can be made to begin the courting process. It may be wise to work with a cultural consultant, the US Commercial Service, or website localization companies to assist with approaching this new market to make your business more attractive. Highlighting that you can do business with this market, translate your website or some pages into the preferred language, or showcase new services that are hand-selected to fit. Any effort made to feature the new market is going to show interest and readiness for expansion.

Discipline comes into play again, as the first attempts may be unsuccessful, keep researching, meeting contacts, and finding the sweet spot for your products. By jumping around from idea to idea and market to market, it becomes challenging to put down any roots and make a real impact.

There is an assortment of resources for you to explore as you start to develop a plan for expanding your business. A great place to start is for many North Dakota companies is Rural America's Intelligence Service for Exporter (RAISE), as part of the US Commercial Service, this program works specifically with exporters to identify niche markets, export opportunities, and preparations for expansion.  There are many local development organizations in your area with resources for business growth. The NDTO also has years of exporting experience to help you with research, connections, translation services, and many opportunities for grant funding are available.

At the NDTO, we work side-by-side with companies to develop export plans, conduct research, potential buyers, and make market connections that work for you. There are also opportunities for trade missions (live and virtual), educational opportunities, network, and overall advocacy for exporters with membership.  Feel free to reach out at

Leadership Lessons

Leadership Lessons

Posted on November 11, 2020

Each week I like to inspire my team with leadership lessons I have been given along the way. This week with celebrating the 245th year of the Marine Corps (November 10, 1775) and Veterans Day upon us, I shared the following lesson:

I believe that leadership is an extremely important component to success in life and business. I know that I rely on the military and my experiences in the Marine Corps often and know that some of you may question why I do this. The simple answer is that I believe that the military is one of the greatest institutions in developing and testing one’s leadership ability. You are already leaders, and I hope that these discussions will help in honing your leadership skills.

Annually, on November 10th, the US Marine Corps family celebrates and reflects on being part of an organization that takes great pride in being part of something bigger than the individual. Excellence in leadership is the hallmark of a Marine. In difficult times, I often refer to the acronym “JJ DID TIE BUCKLE.” The acronym refers to the 14 leadership traits of a Marine, “Justice, Judgement, Dependability, Initiative, Decisiveness, Tact, Integrity, Enthusiasm, Bearing, Unselfishness, Courage, Knowledge, Loyalty, and Endurance.”

A favorite memory is studying for a meritorious promotions board with my Corporal, Sergeant, x2 Staff Sergeant, Gunnery Sergeant, and Lieutenant, all sitting on the top of an amphibious assault vehicle (AAV) at “O-dark-thirty”, in the well deck of a ship, cruising somewhere in the Pacific. At this session, after a particularly grueling day, they worked with me for hours to ensure that I was prepared. I distinctly remember going over and over the “JJ acronym,” but what I remember most is how all these Marines were putting into practice what they were imparting. The next day I was tired, nervous, and yes, a little scared, but that study session propelled me into that room with an attitude of wanting to make those leaders proud.

If you are curious, I did well and was quite shocked when I reported to the board and saw that two of my examiners had been atop that AAV helping me practice! I stood my ground and answered every question the board threw at me to the best of my ability. Little did I know, my lesson in leadership was not over. Before being dismissed, I overheard my Lieutenant thank the ranking officer “for doing this,” and I was asked to send in one of the Marines waiting by the hatch. That Marine was selected for promotion. I would later learn that my unit was not allocated a promotion slot and that I had been ineligible for promotion all along. My Leaders thought it would be a good learning experience for me and to acknowledge that I had been doing a good job and had asked for a “mock” examination to be conducted.  Mission accomplished! It was one heck of a learning experience and one that I will never forget! At the end of the day, I didn’t care that I wasn't pinning on a new stripe. What mattered to me the most is that I made my leadership team proud, and they had thought enough of me to invest the time and effort.

I appreciate the many lessons I have learned over the years and I am eternally grateful. Happy Birthday, Marines!

Best regards and Semper Fidelis,

Drew Combs

Press Release: NDTO Receives SBA Funding for State Trade Expansion Program

Press Release: NDTO Receives SBA Funding for State Trade Expansion Program

Posted on September 30, 2020

FARGO, ND - The US Small Business Administration announces State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) awardees this week. The awardees include the North Dakota Trade Office with $83,375.00 of funding to increase exports for small businesses in North Dakota for the upcoming fiscal year.

With the STEP ND 2020 program, funding is available for eligible small businesses to expand into new markets and assist companies new to exporting with market research, translation, and marketing projects. There are also opportunities for foreign sales trips,  domestic and international trade shows, and NDTO-lead trade missions.

"STEP funding for the small businesses of North Dakota means that even in these difficult times, we can still keep exporting goods and services.  NDTO and our team of experts can provide guidance, new opportunities, and connections that can lead to success," says Drew Combs, Executive Director of the NDTO.  Combs goes on to explain, "This year especially, we have focused funding on opportunities to improving marketing, website, translation and localization projects as travel is still uncertain. This focus will provide companies the opportunity to grow and adapt to the current environment."

With uncertainly in international travel, NDTO has seen an increased focus for projects to improve websites, virtual trade missions, and translation of marketing media, all of which can be funded through STEP. When borders open and travel becomes more feasible,  funding through STEP  is available to assist with foreign sales trips and trade missions to expand into new markets.

"Over two-thirds of the world's purchasing power resides outside the United States. That makes exporting a critical economic driver for North Dakota small businesses that are ready to expand their reach into new and increasingly borderless global markets," said SBA Regional Administrator Dan Nordberg.  "These STEP awards, in addition to SBA's export loans and U.S. Export Assistance Centers, make sure that small businesses in North Dakota have the tools, resources, and relationships they need to take their businesses global."

With the ongoing success of the STEP ND Program,  the SBA ND District Director Al Haut stated, "I am pleased the North DakotaTrade Office is once again supporting our small businesses through SBA's STEP program.  STEP Funds can help a business pivot their sales to focus on foreign buyers by helping to cover the cost for upgrades to their website, translation of marketing materials, and participating in virtual trade missions." The  STEP ND program has seen a high return on investment from STEP dollars year over year, reporting an ROI of  131.48 (FY2016) on the most recently reported STEP award.

As STEP continues, the NDTO is looking forward to working with many partners to best support North Dakota companies to discover their export potential.  These partners include the 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, all of which have the expertise to offer exporters.

NDTO will accept applications for  the STEP ND from September 30, 2020, through September 29, 2021. Company and activity applications will be reviewed and selected on a first-come, first-served basis. For STEP ND resources and application details, visit the NDTO website. If you are interested in STEP ND funding, please connect with our team at

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. NDTO members and North Dakota companies can increase exports and grow their international business.

The US 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

Celebrating SBA’s STEP Program and Highlighting North Dakota All-Star- WCCO Belting, Inc.

Celebrating SBA’s STEP Program and Highlighting North Dakota All-Star- WCCO Belting, Inc.

Posted on September 28, 2020

The U.S. Small Business Administration celebrates 10 years of support for small business growth through the State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) grants.  The goal of STEP is to increase exporting opportunities and value of small businesses across the US; the North Dakota Trade Office has been the recipient of STEP funding as far back as 2012.

The STEP program as a whole has assisted in providing over $3.8 billion in exports since 2010, and more than 1200  businesses have received support through a variety of export activities. STEP recipients have increased their visibility across 141 countries.  The SBA reports that for every $1 in grant funding provided, the STEP awardees report an average of  $66 in export sales, which is the highest return on investment to date, for the most recently completed STEP grant (FY17). 

In North Dakota alone, STEP has supported more than 90 companies providing over $1 million in funding of export activities, including foreign sales trips, trade missions, trade shows, exporting research, marketing, and translations assistance. More than 60 countries have been visited for export opportunities by ND Companies, and they have reported numerous connections and sales made over time.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) and STEP program celebrates a North Dakota Company as an excellent example of the STEP program in practice. WCCO Belting Inc. is a leading manufacturer of specialized custom rubber belting for machines in agriculture, construction, industrial, and recycling industries with a growing list of domestic and international equipment manufacturers and distributors. The STEP funded activities have taken WCCO Belting around the world to Agritechnica in Germany, AgriShow in Brazil, and International Machines in Agriculture (EMIA) in Italy. Website redesign and translations for increased accessibility have also assisted in their global presence as well as sales trips and trade missions.  Since 2012, these projects have expanded into Germany, Italy, Brazil, and Australia, with more than $2.25 million in sales.  WCCO Belting, Inc. continues to build on their success and seek new opportunities. 

 “This year marks 10 years that the SBA has awarded STEP grants supporting state-level investments in small business export programs,” said SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza.  “STEP provides tremendous opportunities for American businesses to reach customers beyond our borders.” 

The SBA has awarded over $157 million in funding to more than 300 grants across all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands. 

The vision of STEP is to assist small businesses in reaching their exporting potential in international markets. For North Dakota, the STEP program enhances the ability of export-ready ND small businesses to expand their export sales and marketing programs and increase or retain jobs as a result of the use of the grant funds. STEP ND channels resources to ND companies to strengthen their export plans and increase ND’s presence in the global economy.

North Dakota Trade Office is excited to continue assisting North Dakota’s small businesses with STEP funding through the SBA. If you are interested in opportunities in exporting, please contact us at

Thank You from NDTO

Thank You from NDTO

Posted on September 2, 2020

NDTO appreciates the service of both ND Commerce Commissioner Michelle Kommer, and Peter Christianson for your dedication, leadership and enthusiasm on the NDTO Board of Directors.

Since 2019, Commissioner Kommer has served with a zeal for North Dakota, trade and economic development for the state. Her insight and guidance were always thoughtful and will be missed.

Peter Christianson served on the NDTO board starting in 2014, he had a keen eye for financials and strived to make NDTO even better.  His leadership and guidance have made NDTO flourish.

NDTO thanks you both for your years of service and governance.