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NDTO News Article

Export Assistant Program Brings Global Talent to North Dakota

The North Dakota Trade Office’s (NDTO) Export Assistant Program has been creating success stories since 2006. The program identifies, screens and places talented graduate students within North Dakota businesses looking to expand their global business opportunities. Students typically speak multiple languages and come equipped with relevant business experience. Students past and present, including Vanessa from Zimbabwe, Franco from Chile, and Nadia from Russia have found success with the program as they launch careers in international business.

Export assistants come from countries all over the world to work in North Dakota and attend the public universities. They are vetted by the North Dakota Trade Office and acceptance is contingent on their meeting the needs of a North Dakota business. Companies participating in the Export Assistant Program are able to utilize a student’s foreign language skills and international insight at a reduced cost. Students are paid intern wages and receive a tuition waiver at their university. It’s an all-around beneficial program as both the student and company save on expenses and North Dakota gains and retains talent that otherwise would not be here.

Vannessa Sibanda was finishing up her bachelor’s degree in business administration at Namibia University of Science & Technology in Windhoek when she found the Export Assistant Program on the internet. After reaching out to NDTO staff, she applied and was accepted to NDSU and the Export Assistant Program. Originally from Zimbabwe and a native English, Zulu and Xhosa speaker, she sought to expand her travels from within Africa to another English-speaking nation.  She’s currently working on her MBA with a concentration on supply chain and logistics.

Sibanda joined the Export Assistant Program to further her career prospects in logistics related work. She was placed with Swanson Health Products, working as an ocean freight coordinator and transportation management systems (TMS) specialist. In her current role, she meets with freight forwarders and determines how freight will be moved across the ocean. Sibanda has brought experience with her as she previously worked for German freight forwarder Deutsche Bahn Schenker in Namibia.

“It’s interesting being on the other side of the business now that I’m choosing the freight forwarders. I know the right questions to ask them,” said Sibanda. “If I’m selling an affordable product it must be moved at a low cost.”

Swanson Health Products is quite impressed with Sibanda and has recently increased her responsibility.

“The level of knowledge, professionalism and polish she brings to the role are invaluable,” said Damian Holznagel, Swanson Health Products’ Senior Customer Service Center Operations Manager. “She takes on her responsibilities as if she owns stock in the company.”

Franco Weisser hails from Chillan, Chile and first came to North Dakota to study for four months in 2012 as part of a collaboration between NDSU and the University of Concepción, where he was completing his master’s degree in soil sciences. With the help of NDSU personnel, Weisser gathered information on enrolling at NDSU and the Export Assistant Program. After graduating with one master’s degree and gaining acceptance to NDSU and the Export Assistant Program, he traveled back to Fargo and began NDSU’s International Agribusiness Master of Science program.

International Agribusiness fit into Weisser’s experience as he had been working for a John Deere dealership in Chile where he imported machinery from Europe to sell in-country. He drew on that experience when he went to work for the Titan Machinery Outlet Store, which has a clear focus on the Latin American market. Weisser was such a good fit at Titan Machinery that the company hired him after he graduated from NDSU. Moreover, they’ve sponsored him in his pursuit of a work visa and he continues to work full time in international sales for the company.

“Titan Machinery fits me very well, I love it,” said Weisser. “We have built something really nice and they make me feel like they trust me a lot.”

Don Aberle manages Titan Machinery’s used equipment exports and oversees Weisser’s work. Aberle commends Weisser and the Export Assistant Program.

“All my interns have been through the Export Assistant Program,” said Aberle. “It’s a wonderful training program, wonderful opportunity for companies to find talent and see if they work well for each other.”

Nadezda “Nadia” Fastovtsova came all the way from Siberia with a dream to earn an MBA degree abroad. After studying English for several years in New York City and preparing for the GMAT exam, her opportunity finally came along. Fastovtsova heard about the Export Assistant Program from a friend and moved to Fargo to pursue a graduate degree and valuable work experience. The Export Assistant Program helped her achieve both of her goals. Not only did it waive her tuition but it also opened the door for a full-time position at Amity Technology.

Amity Technology does business all over the globe but its largest markets are in Russia and Ukraine. Fastovtsova speaks both English and Russian as she helps the company with export compliance and logistics. She also interprets for the company when Russian-speaking customers visit North Dakota. Fastovtsova credits the Export Assistant Program with providing her with the skills to find a lasting job in the state.

“NDTO provides a fabulous training,” said Fastovtsova. “There are so many details in export compliance and without NDTO training I wouldn’t be able to do my job well.”

Amity has come to rely on Fastovtsova so much that they have sponsored her work visa and Fastovtsova is able to continue expanding markets for Amity Technology and live in North Dakota for an additional six years.

For more information on the Export Assistant Program, please contact Sharon May at