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Dave Olson, Published August 10 2012

Making worldwide connections

FARGO – Fifteen years ago, Colombia was awash in violence, and lawlessness made the country an outcast in the world of international commerce.

Today is a different story. With security greatly improved, businesses around the world are looking to make connections in Colombia, said Juan Antia, a senior commercial specialist with the U.S. Commerce Service, who works out of the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Colombia.

Antia was recently in North Dakota to help plan an October trade trip to Colombia, where, Antia said, businesses and the government are open to American technology and other goods.

With security largely dealt with, Antia said Colombia is focused on improving infrastructure and transportation with an eye toward enhancing trade.

With small-scale farming the norm in much of Colombia, there may be opportunities for companies that deal in used agricultural equipment, of which there are many in North Dakota, said Heather Ranck, a trade specialist who heads up the U.S. Commercial Service office in Fargo.

Ranck likened the Commercial Service to a matchmaker that helps buyers and sellers find each other, wherever they may be in the world.

“Part of what we do is set the wheels in motion,” she said, adding that the agency researches potential demand in a country before approaching U.S. companies that might fill that demand.

When a business, let’s say an aviation company, decides it wants to make a trip, the Commercial Service helps schedule meetings and smooth the way for effective interaction.

“Once we’re there, we’ll do a briefing on the important things you need to know about doing business in Colombia,” Ranck said.

“We’ll also do a high-level reception, which is often at the ambassador’s residence,” Ranck added. She said three North Dakota companies immediately jumped at the chance to visit Colombia, while at least five others are strongly interested in making the trip in mid-October.

Under what is called the Gold Key program, companies pay the agency about $1,000 to help with things like setting up meeting schedules.

Companies pay their own way when it comes to travel expenses.

The process has worked wonders for Roll-A-Ramp, a West Fargo manufacturing company that builds light, portable ramps out of aircraft aluminum.

“It’s a cost-effective way to narrow down your opportunities,” said Greg Moll, global sales manager for Roll-A-Ramp.

He said the company expanded its distribution network from about two dozen countries to more than 50 in the past five years, thanks in part to Ranck and the U.S. Commercial Service.

Moll said trade missions organized by the agency helped Roll-A-Ramp make connections in Korea, Norway, Sweden and Turkey.

“The ones (missions) we’ve gone on, we’ve always succeeded in finding a partner,” Moll said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555