In the back room of a small paint store in rural Pullman, Wash., business development specialists are using a computer and fax machine to try to sell local agricultural equipment and expertise in the global marketplace. It’s a grassroots operation that works.
The non-profit, bootstraps initiative, AgriTechnics International, was established in April by the Palouse Economic Development Council, a four-county development agency.
ATI is an effort to boost the depressed agriculture-based economy of the Palouse area in eastern Washington around Pullman. Pullman bills itself as the lentil capital of the U.S. Wheat and peas are also important crops.
Like the agricultural products of the Palouse, the ATI concept is homegrown. ATI builds on local strengths, adds value to existing activities and recognized the importance of the expanding global marketplace even for small business.
ATI evolved from discussions at a series of town meetings after work in a local restaurant. Economic development officials, local business people and other civic leaders attended, committing to building a new future for the Palouse.
“ATI builds on the region’s strengths,” said Tom Kneeshaw, the PEDC specialist who manages ATI. “We have state-of-the-art agricultural technology. So rather than trying to recruit new industries from outside the state, the program builds on what we do best – grow food.”
Since April, Kneeshaw has been compiling a computerized inventory of local companies and their products – such as fertilizer applicators and specialized farm implements. He identifies foreign trade leads from a variety of sources – including a U.S. Department of Commerce computer database and publications such as the United Nation’s Development Business.
Using his fax, Kneeshaw contacts promising foreign leads, asking for more details. Then he tries to match the leads with a local source. v Already, Kneeshaw located a European distributor for a Pullman-based manufacturer of moisture measuring devices used in food processing. Kneeshaw also put a Spokane manufacturer in contact with a company in Jordan seeking a livestock feed plant.
“We found many small companies don’t have a fax machine or they’re too busy running their businesses to follow up on trade leads around the world,” Kneeshaw said.
ATI receives a commission from companies who eventually obtain contracts through the ATI clearinghouse. Kneeshaw hopes ATI will be self-sustaining in three years.
Kneeshaw also is working with banks and the Washington State Export Assistance Center to help local small businesses arrange export financing.
ATI has not gone unnoticed. In February it was one of only two projects selected from 44 applicants for the first $95,000 Washington Department of Community Development Rural Revitalization Pilot Program grants.
New Markets drive business development and community revitalization. The expanding global marketplace provides many opportunities for large and small alike.