Agriculture Helps Make Kansas An Export Leader
From aircraft and cereals to meat and machinery, Kansas is selling more goods to more countries, posting its fourth straight all-time high in 2008, with $12.5 billion in exports.
General aviation remains the state’s biggest industry and its largest source of exports.
Wichita produces 50 percent of general aviation aircraft in the United States and 40 percent of the global supply.
Industrial machinery, cereals and electrical machinery are next in size, and total exports from Kansas have nearly tripled since 1999, though the state is not resting on its traditional products or markets.
India and Brazil are emerging as strong buyers, further diversifying a lineup topped by Canada, Mexico, Japan and Germany.
The Kansas Department of Commerce operates trade offices in Beijing, Mexico City and Tokyo and contract representatives in several other countries. State leaders will go where the business is, and in October 2009, Gov. Mark Parkinson and top Commerce Department officials made two separate trips to Asia, including China’s Henan Province, a long-time “sister state” of Kansas and buyer of Kansas goods.
At home, Kansas spotlights one exporter each year for the Governor’s Exporter of the Year Award. Winners are strong international marketers and solid neighbors at home.
Vortex Valves, based in Salina, won the award in 2008. The company makes material handling valves and increased its export sales by 148 percent from 2004 to 2007.
“Our core industries around the world are flour milling, plastics, petrochemicals and minerals,” says Russ Barragree, the company’s marketing director.
Vortex’s gates and valves are used to produce everything from Pringles potato chips to solid rocket fuel and handle hundreds of materials in powder, dust, granule, pellet and aggregate form. The company’s customers include original equipment manufacturers, Fortune 500 outfits and process engineering firms. Export destinations include Italy, Greece, Poland, Spain, Ireland, Scotland, Peru, Colombia and Venezuela.
Vortex, which is privately owned, opened an office in Shanghai in May 2009 that serves countries in the Pacific region, including China, Australia and New Zealand.
Cereal Ingredients Inc. won the export award in 2009. The company makes food particulates that add flavor, color and texture to baked goods, cereals, ice cream, crunches and toppings. Its latest line, Nutri-Bites, is used in high-nutrition food bars.
Exports increased 76 percent between 2005 and 2008, and Cereal Ingredients in late 2009 added Indonesia as its 19th export destination, says Kim Bledsoe, executive assistant to Chief Executive Officer Robert Hatch, who founded the company in Missouri in 1990.
Cereal Ingredients moved to Kansas, where it built and opened a new plant and headquarters in 2005. Two years later, it bought a 40,000-square-foot building next door in the Leavenworth Industrial Park, doubling its space.
“We grew so fast we didn’t have time to build,” Bledsoe says.
Exports make up about 30 percent of the company’s business, though domestic and foreign sales continue to grow. Cereal Ingredients typically customizes products for its customers and has its own research and development lab in Leavenworth.
The annual award winners may not need it, but the Kansas Department of Commerce sponsors conferences and Web-based seminars to educate companies about the export business.
Kansas itself keeps one strategy at the top of its list. “Face to face contact is absolutely critical,” says John Watson, director of the Trade Development Division of the Kansas Department of Commerce.
“Any time we can help Kansas business leaders make direct contacts with foreign business leaders, we make a big world a little smaller.”