Forum looks at boosting ties with Turkey

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Posted: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 12:00 am

More than 6,000 miles separate Nebraska and Turkey, but state and local officials hope a shared can-do business attitude could strengthen ties between the Cornhusker State and the fastest-growing economy in Europe.

The Turkish economy has grown faster than any other in Europe in the last 10 years, according to the 34-member Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. The group has estimated that Turkey’s gross domestic product will grow at a 5.2 percent annual average through 2017, almost twice the U.S. average annual rate of 2.7 percent for the same period.

Turkey’s recent and continued economic successes parallel Nebraska’s success in bucking national trends of unemployment and with the state’s growing exports, Nebraska Lt. Gov. Lavon Heidemann said at a forum hosted Tuesday in Omaha by the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce and the Nebraska Department of Economic Development.

“Turkey sounds a bit like Nebraska,” Heidemann said. “As it does good, we do good.”

According to federal trade data, there’s plenty of room for both economies to do even better, at least with each other.

Nebraska businesses exported $16.4 million in goods to Turkey in 2013, making it the state’s 38th-biggest export destination. “We’re sending them everything from beef to medical and scientific equipment to pre-fabricated buildings and aircraft parts,” Heidemann said.

That’s almost three times the volume of what was exported 10 years ago, but falls far short of the volume of Nebraska’s top three export destinations of Canada, Mexico and China: $3.9billion of the state’s $7.4 billion in total exports last year.

Joe Chapuran, international development manager for the state, said that was the reason for the Tuesday forum. He said he hopes to increase the number of Nebraska businesses trading with Turkey.

The state’s top exports to Turkey are agricultural products such as corn and soybeans, which accounted for about half of all exports there in 2013. Machinery, including farm machinery and grain bins manufactured by firms like Grand Island, Neb.-based Chief Industries Inc., is the state’s second-largest export to Turkey.

Allen Mitchel, vice president of international sales at the Chief Agri/Industrial Division in Kearney, Neb., said the company has been selling its products in Turkey for almost 20 years, but as the country’s economy has grown stronger, local competition has increased.

“They’re seeing a lot more infrastructure investment and they’ve been making their own (grain bins),” Mitchel said.

Other Nebraska businesses have encountered obstacles in establishing a business presence in Turkey and elsewhere.

Kraig Prange, president of Lincoln-based direct marketing company ACTON International Ltd., said he’s traveling to Turkey this month. “You have to meet face to face” to close deals in Turkey, Prange said. “An email won’t get it done.”

Kim Anh Nguyen, director of international sales for Omaha-based International Nutrition, said finding trustworthy distributors for the company’s animal nutritional supplements has proved difficult in many international markets. “If you want to expand your international presence, you need to build a brand,” Nguyen said.

That can be difficult when unscrupulous distributors demand exclusive rights for an entire country, or when international manufacturers make their own products and market them under an American brand name.

“American products have the advantage of being trusted around the world,” Nguyen said, “but you also must protect yourself.”

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