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From Nebraska with love: Businesses optimistic about state's relationship with Russia

Thursday, November 06, 2014


Jim Grewe saw no signs of trouble in Moscow last month.

He travels to Russia two or three times a year, doing what anyone would do as vice president of international sales for Reinke Manufacturing, a company that ships irrigation systems built in Deshler, Nebraska, to buyers around the world.

In October, that included meeting with dealers and chatting up prospective buyers at Agrosalon, an exhibition that drew agribusinesses from all over the world.

"The people I talked to, everything was pretty positive," he said. "Our business, really to date, hasn't slowed down a bit in Russia.”

That's not the case for every Nebraska business that ships to the former Soviet Union. But talk to many executives, and you'll get a general sense of optimism about trade with a nation that was once the United States' archrival and a backdrop for countless secret agent stories.

"I think it’s because of political stability over there," said Allen Mitchel, vice president of sales for Chief Industries' ag-industry division. "That sounds like an odd comment when you’re in the middle of Nebraska watching the news.”

Tension between the U.S. and Russia over the situation in Ukraine had an "obvious impact" at Chief, which makes grain storage and handling equipment.

"For the past three or four months, there’s been nothing that’s been going through either Russia or Ukraine," Mitchel said. "That was a significant market.

"We just haven’t had any orders coming in.”

But talks between people there and people here are picking up, he said.

Elevator companies have expressed interest in working with Chief, and salespeople for the Kearney-based company are eager to keep conversations going.

"So when that time comes and the lights come on, we’re ready to go," Mitchel said.

Fewer than 20 companies in the state explicitly say they export to Russia, and the country doesn't rank among the handful who haul in the most Nebraska-made or Nebraska-grown goods, said Susan Rouch, director of the Office of International Trade & Investment at the state Department of Economic Development.

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