The Currency
4:29 pm
Wed June 11, 2014

The Currency: Who's Going On The Turkey Trade Mission, And Why They Say It Matters

ROKON owner and president Tom Blais is among the New Hampshire business delegates going on the trade mission to Turkey
ROKON owner and president Tom Blais is among the New Hampshire business delegates going on the trade mission to Turkey
Credit Amanda Loder / NHPR

Today we begin a new segment on NHPR called The Currency.  It’s our ongoing look at economic and business news in New Hampshire. 

Headlines: Big Tax Refund Errors, State Releases Job Growth Projections, BIA Makes The Rounds

Some businesses that got tax credits this year for setting up shop in downtrodden areas won’t get that break next year.  That’s because a legislative audit found more than $875,000--or about half of the Economic Revitalization Zone tax credit allotment--was given to ineligible businesses.  DRED oversees the program and says the mistakes boil down to deep job cuts and under staffing.

And if you work in food service, administrative support or sales—some good news.  Those areas are expected to account for 40-percent of new job growth in New Hampshire through 2022.  The state also expects to see a big rise in healthcare jobs.  The new numbers were released by the state’s Employment Security office this week.

And every two years New Hampshire’s biggest business lobbying group comes out with a list of broad legislative priorities to guide its efforts.  This year the Business and Industry Association pushed for raising the gas tax to pay for roadwork and against raising the minimum wage.  One way it settles on an agenda?  Hosting roundtables around the state with business leaders.  And they got going today in Concord.  Over the next few weeks there will also be talks statewide, including in Manchester, Portsmouth, Keene and Lebanon.

DRED Commissioner Addresses Turkey Trade Mission Controversy

At the end of the month, Governor Hassan will join a delegation of businesses from across the state on what’s become a politically controversial trade mission to Turkey.  It’s drawn sharp criticism from the right, because last month Hassan ordered a freeze on out-of-state travel.  But the governor says the trip has already been paid for, and that cancelling it would cost taxpayers even more money.

New Hampshire hasn’t led a trade mission since 2011, when delegations traveled to Montreal and India.

New Hampshire now exports to 176 countries, and Turkey is our 12th-largest trade partner.  The country’s economy has exploded over the past decade, tripling its GDP.  That’s also helped the Granite State. 

The commissioner of the state’s Department of Resources and Economic Development, Jeffrey Rose, says 10 years ago, Turkey traded $10 million with New Hampshire.  Today, that figure is more like $80 million.

And Rose, the governor, and seven businesses all hope to grow that number.  I talked with the commissioner earlier this week and to do that he says, they’ve got a full agenda for the week.

“There will be some very senior level meetings that will be taking place," he says.  "We'll be having a business summit with companies over in Istanbul.  We'll be doing, also, working closely with journalists and writers and trying to provide opportunities to talking about New Hampshire, talking about the different goods and services, and the benefits of doing business in the state, as well as getting senior levels of government and industry there."

Q: So you’ve said that New Hampshire led the nation in export growth last year.  Couldn’t the same business goals be achieved for this trip without Governor Hassan or the state’s involvement?

A: Well there are a lot of different factors that go into a company’s ability to grow their markets.  The state works with these companies in a variety of different ways to provide a lot of technical assistance, market analysis, training on exports, different international regulations. 

Q: So you aren’t necessarily looking at saying ‘We want to come out of this mission with $10 million in deals for New Hampshire businesses?’

A: We always want to find opportunities to expand the business relationships.  Oftentimes that’s what it takes.  You want to build those relationships, you need to develop a rapport.  Oftentimes in international business, these things can take, you know, weeks, months, years, decades.  So you can’t really put an immediate timeline around it.  But I know we’re providing opportunities that wouldn’t normally be there without having a delegation coming over and working with all of our trade partners and having somebody like Governor Hassan leading that trade mission.

A Small Business With Big Business Overseas

For those seven companies in the delegation to go along on the trade mission they’ve got to pay their own way plus a $2,500 fee to the state per person.

One of those companies that signed up is Rochester-based ROKON.  And they make motorcycles unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

Rokons aren’t like Harleys or Yamahas.  First of all, they’re all-wheel drive bikes that compete with off-road vehicles, like ATVs.  They’re also taller than regular motorcycles and they have huge hollow tires, which store extra fuel.  Rokons are used around the world by militaries, search and rescue operations, farmers, extreme off-road enthusiasts, and pretty much anybody who needs to get through some serious terrain. 

Tom Blais is President and owner of ROKON.  He says international trade is important to the company’s success.

"It’s huge.  I mean, I’ve been doing this since 1991, and when I started, the United States was in a crisis mode where foreclosures were the rule of the day and homes," he says.  "You know, there wasn’t really any business to be had pretty much in the US.  Right now, the U-S market is strong, but it has a way of falling back at times.  These international orders are crucial to maintaining a steady business for my company.”

Q: Businesses going on the trade mission have to pay their own way, and I also understand a fee to the state.  So why not just go on your own?  Is there a benefit to having a state dignitary like Governor Hassan coming along?

A: This is what people don’t understand the most.  It’s huge to go.  Particularly if you’re a small business.  Big business has a lot more reach.  But small business, a critical ingredient is credibility.  When we travel with the governor, whether it was with Steve Merrill years ago, or Governor Hassan, we’re allowed to get in the room with critical decision-makers in these countries that we wouldn’t ordinarily get into.  The state is able to connect with the right groups.  In this case, we’re going with a Turkish businesspersons’ group called TUSKON.  And their reach across Turkey is legendary.  So our ability to connect with TUSKON, with the credibility angle from the state, particularly with Governor Hassan, allows us to get in the room—I’m going to meet the head of Search and Rescue, for the entire country of Turkey.  That would not happen.  And to be able to meet with the largest manufacturer of ATVs in Turkey, that probably wouldn’t happen.  These are big deals for small business. And I encourage other small business in New Hampshire to make this effort.  I know it’s time consuming, I know it’s expensive.  But it pays off.”

Blais and the trade delegation are set to take off for Turkey a week from Friday.  

Check here again next Wednesday for The Currency, a weekly look at business and economic news in New Hampshire.