International business development draws worldwide interest in Sioux Falls

Nov. 18, 2019

This paid piece is sponsored by the Sioux Falls Development Foundation.

Some come looking to connect with biotech companies. Others are interested in agriculture. Still others are looking to learn more about processes in the U.S.

But increasingly, representatives from across the globe have been traveling to Sioux Falls to meet with business leaders and explore opportunities here.

Much of the international interest in Sioux Falls flows through Rock Nelson’s office. For more than 20 years, he has served as director of the South Dakota International Trade Center, which is organizationally part of the Sioux Falls Development Foundation.

“I enjoy my job because I have no idea what will cross my desk next,” Nelson said. “There are a lot of companies in Sioux Falls and across the state with something that can be sold internationally and increasingly a lot of interest from other countries in learning more about them.”

In less than three months, representatives from at least nine countries have visited Sioux Falls.

“I think a lot of people don’t know that the Development Foundation works with international trade,” said Bob Mundt, the Development Foundation’s president and CEO. “But what I’ve tried to focus on is having Rock work with bringing international delegates here to see what we have to offer and to make personal connections with companies, and eventually we’d like them to have trade relationships.”

Who’s visited

Late September brought a visit from representatives of seven countries with consulates based in Chicago. Spearheaded by a representative from Bulgaria, the group included representatives from Belgium, Costa Rica, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Spain and Taiwan.

“They’ve really considered this flyover country in the past, so when they reached out and wanted to come, we really put together a coordinated effort,” Nelson said.

With help from Joni Johnson, executive director of South Dakota Biotech, tours were arranged at Avera eCARE, POET, Raven Industries, Sanford Research and SAB Biotherapeutics. Thanks to a Development Foundation partnership with the Brookings Economic Development Corporation, executive director Al Heuton arranged for the group to tour Daktronics and Prairie AquaTech.

“They didn’t even know we had a biotech or life science industry in South Dakota,” Johnson said.

“In Belgium, they have a large life science and biopharm presence and didn’t know what we had here. They were very impressed with Sanford Research and Avera eCARE and the size and the relevance of those operations. Hopefully, we continue the conversations that began here. A lot of bioscience companies do clinical trials overseas or form partnerships because the path to market can be easier to work through.”

The visit also included multiple networking events coordinated by the Development Foundation, including a leadership breakfast and a mixer sponsored by the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce.

“To me, it was about making connections,” Mundt said. “This gives our CEOs or people who work in international business development a chance to directly access people who can connect them in those countries.”

The visit was extremely beneficial, Prairie AquaTech CEO Mark Luecke said.

“I can tell you from personal experience that the Sioux Falls Development Foundation is an exceptional partner that truly recognizes the value that local businesses bring to the international marketplace,” he said. “They have been working hard to bring international buyers to South Dakota. These Sioux Falls-area visits have a significant impact.”

While it’s beneficial for businesses to visit countries in forming potential relationships, bringing them to South Dakota provides a unique opportunity to showcase local talent and facilities, he added.

“We have a very high quality of manufacturing and doing business in South Dakota, and it is critical that international buyers be able to see that firsthand.”

Another international delegation arrived in Sioux Falls weeks later – this one from Egypt thanks to a partnership among the Sioux Falls Development Foundation, International Trade Center and Michael Saba, a state legislator with extensive experience in international relations.

A group of leaders including Ambassador Hamdi Saleh arrived with interest in learning more about the state’s higher education, bioscience and ag industries – including how to directly purchase corn and soybeans. Their visit included a stop at the farm of former South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture Walt Bones.

Rock Nelson presents a portrait of “Falls” taken and signed by Paul Schiller to Egyptian Ambassador Hamdi Saleh.

“Egypt was interested in ag and ag tech, manufactured goods, value-added ag and ag products like our precision ag equipment from Raven Industries,” Nelson said.

“I think their eyes were opened very wide. They plan to come back in March with as big or bigger of a delegation, and they would also like a delegation from South Dakota to go there.”

The Egyptian delegation visited EROS to learn about satellites and also was interested in the ag sector and how deal flow works in lending, Johnson said.

Members of the Egyptian delegation tour Bel Brands in Brookings.

“It was a learning trip for them. They want to have a relationship with U.S. banks and U.S. entities to do their importing and exporting,” she said. “One member of their group was a broker who has relationships in Egypt and in the U.S. who could help put some things together, so I think there will be some good follow-up conversations and some tremendous opportunities.”

Finally, a group visited from Jordan to learn more about U.S. airline security. Nelson arranged meetings with the Sioux Falls Regional Airport, TSA representatives and the U.S. Customs & Border Protection’s Sioux Falls port director.

“There are a lot of reasons to open up international pipelines,” Nelson said. “Sometimes it leads to exporting, sometimes international leaders will see opportunities for companies to start operations here and ultimately create jobs, and sometimes they’re looking to invest here.”

What to know

If your business wants to explore options for doing business internationally, or if you have an existing business that has exporting or importing questions, reach out to Nelson’s office. He can be reached at 605-338-3424 or

“Rock really has the experience and connections to help businesses of all sizes. He can walk them through processes, help them navigate potential hurdles and avoid pitfalls,” Mundt said. “It’s just a tremendous resource.”

The services are free and offered statewide, thanks to support for the International Trade Center from Forward Sioux Falls, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, the USD Beacom School of Business, the South Dakota Small Business Development Center and the U.S. Small Business Administration.

“My job is to create more economic impact,” Nelson said. “And it’s exciting to see the level of interest – both from other countries and from businesses in South Dakota.”

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International business development draws worldwide interest in Sioux Falls

Visitors from nine countries and lots of partnerships have put area businesses in front of international business opportunities this fall.

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