FARGO — When Superior Grain was trying to decide what international markets to pursue, they had at least 40 countries to consider. So they used a unique trade research center in Fargo to focus on the best markets.

The Rural America Intelligence Service for Exporters, or RAISE, program, a Fargo-based U.S. Commercial Service program, leads the agency’s rural export efforts and provides customized market research, analysis and planning to assist rural businesses in offering their products and services internationally. Sen. John Hoeven joined North Dakota District Export Council Chairman Jay Schuler, U.S. Commercial Service International Trade Specialist Heather Ranck and local business leaders in explaining and praising the program at a meeting in Fargo on Thursday, Feb. 20.

The success of Kindred-based Superior in expanding into South Africa and other markets was just one of the stories that have led to Ranck's office leading a national effort to expand export opportunities for rural areas.

Ranck wasn’t allowed to speak on the record at the event, but Hoeven and Schuler explained what’s happening with her program.

“She’s a national leader in this effort,” Hoeven said.

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The senator, who chairs the Senate ag appropriations subcommittee, said $500,000 has been appropriated to expand the U.S. Commercial Service’s rural export capabilities. The money will go to Ranck’s office and allow the program to hire more staff and increase output.

Hoeven said the Fargo office will lead a national effort to provide research facilitation and other assistance for rural exporters across the country.

“This will be a national program and it’ll be funneled through Fargo,” Schuler said.

He said rural areas have a lot to offer in the way of potential exports, and the return on investment with getting information from RAISE about how to do that is huge.

“But how do you sell to Europe, how do you sell to Africa?” he asked. “What we’ve got here through the program with Heather is, she’ll do the research, and it’s funded, you pay some money, but it’s really funded through the federal government, the U.S. Commercial Service, and you’re able to if you go to Europe, you go to Germany, you’re going to see qualified buyers for your product rather than just going there and kind of hit and miss and knocking on doors and really getting confused.”

RAISE employs North Dakota State University students to assist in conducting export research. In exchange, the students receive school credit and as well as tuition assistance.

“It’s just a win-win deal,” Schuler said.

And while North Dakota is known for its agriculture and energy industries, the state’s export opportunities expand beyond those sectors. Kristin Hedger, vice president of business development at Killdeer Mountain Manufacturing, which manufactures aerospace parts in southwest North Dakota, said her company has worked with other companies that have benefited greatly from the research at RAISE.

“We can also become . . . technology exporters as well,” she said.