I recently sat in for a couple of hours during the final day of a three-day Export Certificate Program that’s hosted biennially by the U.S. Commercial Service Iowa, at the invitation of its director, Patricia Cook. That small slice of time gave me a better appreciation for the complexities that Iowa companies navigate when they venture into global markets. 

While it takes plenty of chutzpah to break into international markets, small-business people likely view talking with a reporter as even more perilous, but I found three brave volunteers who stepped up to provide some insight about their companies’ experiences. 

Managing an export program successfully is a lot like directing an orchestra, said Linda Anderson, credit manager of Stellar Industries in Garner, who was among the 34 company representatives who took the course, which was held at the Southridge Campus of Des Moines Area Community College. 

Stellar, which manufactures hydraulic truck-mounted equipment such as cable hoists, wants to fine-tune its procedures for executing trade deals with customers it sells to regularly in countries such as Russia and Colombia, Anderson said. 

“I used to think that my only objective when I looked at (exporting) was looking to see how we would collect the money and follow through with our documents. But after being here for the last two and a half days, I realize it’s almost like an orchestra — you have to make sure every section is working correctly and that they’re all in tune with each other,” she said. 

Dave Eisenblast, vice president of international feedstock development for Renewable Energy Group, said he attended to look for ways for the biofuels producer to expand its international trade opportunities. 

“We now own a couple of production facilities in Europe, so we are looking at more opportunities to trade back and forth, and use our global connections to find perhaps better markets for our outputs as well as look for opportunities to buy inputs at their locations as well,” he said. 

Eisenblast said that a presentation on Incoterms — the standardized trade definitions used by shippers that spell out who’s responsible for the shipping, insurance and tariffs on an item — was particularly helpful. “They carry a lot of weight in international trade, and you have to make sure you’re using the correct Incoterm. … It’s something we have become much more comfortable in using in the past six months or so.”

Another participant, Landus Cooperative in Ralston, already has extensive international markets for its soy-based feeds, but is always looking for new ideas. The farmer-owned grain and agronomy cooperative works with farmers in growing soybeans that it then uses to make soy-based feeds that it exports to every continent except Antarctica.  

“We’re located in Ralston, a teeny-tiny town,” said Caitlin Stephenson, customer service supervisor for the cooperative. “It’s nice to be able to network with other people throughout Iowa and learn from their experiences. “Even if they’re not in the same industry as me, we still have similar experiences and we can definitely through networking bounce ideas off of each other. And all the presenters are really good about explaining the resources that you can use that you may not be aware of until you come to a class like this.” 

More than 200 Iowa companies have now gone through the Export Certificate Program, which is offered biennially. To access export resources, visit the U.S. Commercial Service Iowa website.