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  March 10th, 2014 | Written by

Home On The Mountain Range

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Kelly Adams answers the phone: “Wild Touch Taxidermy…” The caller, from the Idaho Department of Commerce, wants to know if Adams would meet a visiting delegation from Taiwan coming into town in a few days.

Adams agrees to meet the visitors in his shop in Meridian. The visitors troop in and discover the mounted bear, the six-point elk, the mountained peacocks, the stuffed moose—all preserved in action poses. The taxidermist is instantly besieged by questions:

“Is this real?”

“What animal is this?”

“Where did you get this?”

The mythology of the American West holds enormous sway in Asia, as many Americans discover in their travels. Adams’ Taiwanese guests were “fascinated by our Old West motifs,” the taxidermist observes. “They went bug-eyed. They were especially fascinated by antlers.”

The shopping expedition convinced Adams a market existed for his products in Asia. He booked a booth at a home décor expo in Taiwan a few months later, reaching an audience of more than 70,000. Among the exhibitors were quite a few businesses that, like his own, reflected an Old West motif, including log cabin model homes exporters. “I felt like I was in Jackson Hole, Wyoming,” says Adams. “They are fascinated with all things western.” The visit opened up a market for his craftsmanship, which in addition to mounted beasts includes his own line of fanciful furniture constructed from antlers, animal skins and other wildlife parts

“Peacocks,” he says. “They love peacocks.”

Adams wrote enough business to return to Idaho and fill a container. The new market continues to produce abundant export business. The downside, however, is the international shipping involves multiple layers of government, here and abroad—and all the attendant paperwork.

“I spent my morning with the feds, and I’ll spend my afternoon with the state,” Adams sighs, describing the time he allocates to handling the permits, registrations and shipping documentation required by his new export line. “You have to pay attention,” he says. “The penalties for getting it wrong are severe.”

Still, he’s glad for the new business. “The funny thing is, I almost didn’t get the call,” he says. “The Commerce guy told me later he was so glad I said yes to him, because he had approached all the other taxidermists in the area and they turned him down.”

Idaho exported about $7 billion in goods and services in 2012. Semiconductors and components led the trade parade ahead of oilseed and grain exports, aerospace products, metals and dairy. Top export services included travel/hospitality, industrial processes and port and freight services. The nation’s top exporter of potatoes, Idaho also leads in shipping hay, sugar beets, grains and animal pelts.

Export success is sweeping the Rocky Mountain region. Colorado exporters can take advantage of services offered by a number of federal, state and other agencies. Several new state trade promotion programs came online recently, including Export Aid, launched last December by Colorado’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT). Aimed at helping small and mid-sized companies market overseas, the program established a global consultant network that provides country-specific research, created an export training program, and provides matching grants up to $15,000.

A sister program called the Advanced Industries Export Accelerator Program targets seven industries associated with higher wages and greater export potential and helps new-to-export companies fund marketing efforts, obtain needed certifications and overcome other export hurdles. The industries are aerospace, advanced manufacturing, life sciences, information technology, electronics, energy and infrastructure engineering. This program also began in December.

“We know that when Colorado expands its exports, businesses increase their productivity and generate jobs,” says Ken Lund, executive director of OEDIT.

Largely an agricultural producer, Montana exported $2.5 billion in 2012. The leading export was bulk wheat, of which $915 billion worth was shipped primarily to Japan and other Asian markets. Other top export categories were fossil fuels, chemicals, industrial machinery and vehicle parts.

After doubling exports every year since 2009, Utah’s run ended in 2013. Exports slipped about 12 percent, following an April landslide that shut down production at Rio Tinto Kennecott Utah Copper’s Bingham Canyon Mine, a major extractor of gold and other metals 20 miles outside Salt Lake City. Gold and other metals being the state’s top export category, this interruption kneecapped export productivity. Other major export categories increased, however, including medical devices, genetic medical treatments and information technology.

Utah has become a magnet for high-tech firms in recent years, as companies like eBay, Oracle, Twitter and Adobe have joined homegrown enterprises such as Novell and Fusion IO in a high-tech global economy. “Companies that used to relocate to the Silicon Valley as they grew are now making Utah their home,” said David Fiscus, director of the U.S. Commerce Department’s Export Assistance Center in Salt Lake City. While Utah lacks a seaport, a strong logistics industry compensates for that, he says. Union Pacific Rail maintains a multimodal facility in Ogden, and most major air carriers have a presence in the state.

Total Wyoming exports for 2012 were $1.4 billion, dominated by chemical export sales approaching $1 billion; other top categories were oil and gas, machinery and agricultural products. The Wyoming Business Council, the state’s economic development agency, operates an international trade development effort to link Wyoming firms with new global markets. One of its services, the Wyoming International Trade Assistance Program, is operated jointly with Manufacturing Works and, offering product development support and links to funding sources.

Having the smallest population of any state, Wyoming is also a powerhouse producer of coal, natural gas and petroleum, and the nation’s leading exporter of domestic energy. The state’s liquefied natural gas production plants have helped expand that industry in the U.S. and helped launch key transportation initiatives, including rail transport projects run by Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Alpha Resources.

Sitting atop the vast Bakken shale deposit, Wyoming’s natural resources attract an ongoing supply of international visitors. This traffic provides multiple benefits to small exporters from multiple industries, says Arnold Sherman, executive director of the Montana World Trade Center. “Thanks to Bakken shale,” says Sherman, “we’ve hosted trade missions from around the world.”

Such missions have proven successful, as evidenced recently by a craftsman who produces artisanal wood products from downed trees. He took advantage of a visiting contingent of industrial purchasers from China and Korea to sell them high-end décor fabricated from unique pieces of wood featuring colorful patterns caused by residual parasites.

“This small craftsman closes an export deal with the Chinese and Koreans who came for the Bakken shale,” muses Sherman. “It was great timing.”


Where in the world is Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter?

You might find him in the Boise statehouse. But maybe he’s overseas, escorting a delegation of Idaho companies on one of the trade missions that have become a hallmark of his administration.

Tapping three decades of experience in global business, the retired president of food and agribusiness company Simplot International brings an internationalist’s savvy to the task of opening doors overseas for local companies. Having led or co-lead 14 trade missions, the governor is an old hand at opening doors that might require official credentials, making friendly introductions across language and cultural barriers and addressing regulatory or diplomatic issues vexing Idaho exporters.

Last year, Gov. Otter led missions to Russia and Asia, including visits to South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam. The prior year, he headed a mission to China, visiting Chengdu, Shanghai and Beijing. Russia is now one of Idaho’s top 10 export markets for agriculture products, including the state’s iconic potatoes.

Participating companies lay the groundwork for $2 million to $3 million in sales to Russia over the next three years, his press office declared after the 18 Idaho companies returned home. Dynamite Marketing, a pet food manufacturer, found new customers in Taiwan, and cheese-maker Glanbia Foods reported “excellent sales” to South Korea, according to the statehouse.

Of his 30 years with J.R. Simplot Co., Gov. Otter says: “I … worked my way up through the ranks to become head of several different divisions, including president of Simplot International. I traveled to more than 80 countries around the world, setting up potato processing plants and contracting with local growers throughout Europe, Asia and Latin America. I came to understand the importance of personal relationships in that process, and the importance of respecting and working with government officials and private business people, within the structure of local law, culture and tradition, to achieve our shared goals.”

He adds, “I learned how international trade works, and how important it can be not just to individual businesses but to entire economies.”