NPR Idaho: Trade Mission To China Showcases Unexpected Idaho Businesses

NPR Idaho  |  By Molly Messick and Emilie Ritter Saunders |

The most recent trade mission to Chinaorganized by the state Department of Commerce and headlined by Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter is underway this week.

Computer and electronic products make up the lion’s share of Idaho’s exports to China, but that sector isn’t represented in the lineup of 15 Idaho companies working to explore and strengthen trade ties.

Instead, the companies on this trip represent a range of industries and business objectives, and run the gamut from familiar Idaho companies like Boise Cascade and Melaleuca toIntermountain Auto Recycling, a small after-market auto body parts distributor based in Rigby, Idaho.

“It’s not just the types of companies you would assume would be interested,” said Department of Commerce spokeswoman Megan Ronk.  “They’re fairly small local companies that are looking to international markets as an opportunity to expand their business and support economic growth in their local communities.”

Take Intermountain Auto Recycling.  It’s a small, family-run operation that employs about 20 people.  Here’s how it works:  The company takes in used cars, purchasing them from owners or insurers, for example.  Employees remove any hazardous chemicals and materials from the vehicles.  Then, as parts are ordered, they pull and send them.  At the end, what’s left is the vehicle’s shell.  It’s that scrap steel that’s prompting the company’s China trip.

“The steel is already ending up there,” says company sales manager James Boone, “but right now it’s going through two middlemen at least.  We’re trying to skip through the middlemen and get to the end user.”

Chinese import laws changed early this year, Boone says, making that direct transaction possible.  He’s using the trade mission to meet with factories and recycling centers, all with a particular vision in mind.  “If we get the profit margins we expect, we think we could broker scrap from other automotive recyclers in Idaho,” Boone says.  “And we would increase our own scrap production capability as well.”  If all goes well, scrap steel, which currently accounts for about half of the company’s income, could lead profits.

Boise-based coffee franchise Moxie Java is another trade mission participant.  Rick Dean and his wife, Stephanie, own the company, which has about 60 locations across the U.S., most of them in Idaho.  “We have an understanding that the China market is definitely underserved with coffee, and it’s becoming more popular,” Dean says.  “The population is very large.  I think we have some things that would give us a competitive advantage over there.”

Dean sees the China trip as a way to meet with potential franchise owners, and figure out how Moxie Java can fit into the country’s growing thirst for specialty coffee.  He points to the example of Starbucks.  It opened its first store in Beijing in 1999, and now has 750 across mainland China.

“We have always felt that Starbucks can go in and create awareness for the specialty market,” Dean says.  “People always want a choice and that’s where we come in.”

As Department of Commerce spokeswoman Ronk observes, the trade mission has drawn companies large and small.  “Some of them are new to international trade, so this is a fact-finding trip for them,” she says.  “Others have more longstanding relationships and experience in the market.”  Either way, they’ve embarked on the trip with significant aspirations; business visions that might, with luck, bolster employment here in Idaho.

Here is the full list of trade mission participants:

AMET: An advanced welding system company based in Rexburg

Bio Tracking: A livestock lab testing company based in Moscow

Boise Cascade: A wood products company based in Boise

DocuTech Corporation: Mortgage loan document preparation service based in Idaho Falls

Hamilton Manufacturing: Makes hydroseeding and erosion control products in Twin Falls

Idaho Forest Group: A wood products company based in Coeur d’Alene

Idaho National Laboratory: Nuclear and energy research, science and national defense lab based in Idaho Falls

Idaho Potato Commission: A state agency tasked with promoting potatoes, based in Eagle

Intermountain Auto Recycling: Distributor of after-market auto body parts based in Rigby

Melaleuca: A direct sales company specializing in home cleaning and personal care products based in Idaho Falls

Moxie Java: A specialty coffee franchise based in Boise

Pickett Equipment: Farm equipment maker based in Burley          

Price Associates: Business consultants based in Nampa                  

Stoel Rives, LLP: Law firm with an office in Boise                           

Zions Bank:  A Utah-based bank with locations in Idaho

 

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