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From Frozen Sheep Heads to Prairie Dogs, Rural Offices Help Exporters Compete

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Winners of an ITA Export Assistance Center Excellence Award

Guest blog post by Carrie Bevis, intern in Commerce's International Trade Administration, Office of Public Affairs

Many of the U.S. Export Assistance Centers (USEACs) are small offices that serve a wide territory mainly made up of rural communities. The specialists at these offices must be flexible, resourceful, and willing to accommodate the needs of a diverse clientele. Recently, three of them spoke with International Trade Update about their work: Carey Hester, director of the Missoula, Montana, USEAC; Cinnamon King, director of the Sioux Falls, South Dakota, USEAC; and Heather Ranck, an international trade specialist in the Fargo, North Dakota, USEAC.

According to Ranck, the USEACs play a greater role in rural areas. “We become a precious resource to businesses because we can connect companies to resources that are perceived as distant, through our amazing network.” Hester added that “often, small rural companies are less familiar and less trusting of trade, thus requiring more dependence on their Commercial Service officer. We really have to sell the idea of exporting to these companies. I am the face of the federal government to a lot of the companies out here.”

Personal contact is very important, according to Ranck. “Our work with clients is very relationship based. You have to drive out to visit them, learn about their company, and build trust before you begin export assistance. A lot of our clients become our friends.”

King emphasizes that trade specialists at the USEACs need to be ready to handle a wide diversity of businesses. “Being in a stand-alone office, you need knowledge of everything. One day I have to figure out how to get a load of frozen sheep heads to Mexico, and the next how to ship prairie dogs to a pet store in Japan!”

Hester agreed: “It’s the diversity that keeps this job so new and fun for us; it’s never boring.”

All spoke of the extra time and personal attention that their work demanded, but agreed that seeing the significance of their work makes it well worth the effort. According to Ranck, “There are companies that I know wouldn’t be exporting if it weren’t for us and that generates a great feeling of pride.”

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