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NDTO News Article

North Dakota economy draws international attention

Posted by ND Business Watch on November 1st, 2009 by Jeff Zent

While North Dakota hasn’t gone unscathed from the global economic slowdown, it certainly is bucking the trends of high unemployment, unprecedented home foreclosures, business losses and government budget shortfalls that can be found in other parts of the country.

It seems the rest of the nation wants to know how we do it. North Dakota’s economic success during trying times has been well documented by The New York Times, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, MSNBC and a host of other national and international news organizations.

Even “The Tonight Show’s” Conan O’Brien recently jumped on the bandwagon with a wacky skit that attributed North Dakota’s envious budget surplus to a barn full of wallets stolen from tourists. It may be news in other parts of the country, but North Dakota’s success is just part of everyday life here.

First and foremost, North Dakotans are a hard-working, financially conservative people. We live in a progressive state with significant resources, a strong business climate and we support aggressive initiatives to create jobs and further diversify the state’s economy.

Part of the state’s commitment to economic growth focuses on expanding North Dakota’s global markets. Last month, 170 people from 15 foreign countries visited North Dakota to learn more about and source the latest farming and ranching technologies.

The North Dakota Trade Office and U.S. Commercial Service spent months identifying key equipment buyers and recruiting them to attend the Big Iron Farm Show and other events designed to facilitate business with North Dakota companies. The Big Iron International Visitors Program is one of many tools used today to connect North Dakota companies with key buyers from high-demand foreign markets.

Emerging and experienced exporters are taking advantage of international business training courses offered at the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University. Graduate students work as “export assistants” in North Dakota businesses.

Business leaders are participating in trade missions and “reverse” trade missions that connect them to new and existing customers. Business leaders also are calling on the Trade Office and Fargo-based U.S. Commercial Service to perform market research, to help identify capital providers, to develop international business strategies, to help find the best shipping options and to tap into other international business services.

Last year, North Dakota exported $4 billion in crops. Also last year, the value of North Dakota’s merchandise exports reached a record level of about $2.8 billion – almost a three-fold increase in fi ve years. In short, exporting is big business in North Dakota.

Foreign buyers are increasingly turning to North Dakota to find the latest technologies in agriculture production, aviation equipment, and services, value-added foods, medical and security equipment and other innovations.

Entering the global marketplace can be daunting. North Dakota businesses face limited transportation options with costs that can mean the difference between remaining competitive and not. There’s a significant learning curve involved in meeting foreign regulations. Landing customers in other countries can take time and money.

But talk to any of the state’s global business leaders – people like Tom Shorma of WCCO Belting, Inc. in Wahpeton or Bob Sinner of SB&B Foods of Casselton – and they will likely tell you their expansions into the global marketplace were well worth the effort and have made their businesses much stronger. There’s no barn full of money. Just a strong business climate that helps private industry do what it does best.