A stone cistern and evidence of a potato cellar are all that remain of the Fales homestead near Deaver, Wyoming.
David Fales frequently walks the 87 acres his great-grandparents once called home. Heart Mountain dominates the landscape to the east. Sometimes, he comes across rusty old tools his ancestors used to work the land a century ago.
The Fales family came from Missouri on the heels of the Buffalo Bill Dam project, which opened this part of northwest Wyoming to farming and ranching.
“They came out here with nothing. No roads, no telephones,” Fales said. “Nothing but a patch of land, and they had to build it all from scratch.”
Fales sat in his office about an hour from the old homestead on a recent January day. Outside, a foot of snow blanketed the parking lot, reminding him of pre-dawn days spent cracking the ice in the cows’ water trough so the animals could drink.
Family history is paramount to this son of a rancher. From a young age, he dreamed of working with Wyoming Angus beef. Today, he is on a mission to introduce the state’s high-quality meat to the world.
Fales has also built a livelihood from scratch. Cody-based Wyoming Authentic Products, the state’s only U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved beef processing facility, produces many beef products, including the 1.3 million beef sticks made in 2016.
Since July 2015, many of those beef sticks have made their way to Canada. Hundreds of health food stores in Vancouver, Toronto, Nova Scotia, Halifax and Calgary are home to packaging bearing the iconic Wyoming bucking horse and rider symbol, with wording in both English and French.
The exports are a boon to Wyoming, pumping outside money into local circulation. State economic experts have worked hard to help more companies achieve the kind of success Wyoming Authentic Products is enjoying, and now those officials have a new tool in their belt.
The Wyoming Business Council, the state’s economic development agency, recently received a $158,000 State Trade and Expansion Program (STEP) grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration. The federally-funded initiative aims to introduce business owners to exporting so they can expand into new markets and increase foreign direct investment in the state.
The program began with a free webinar in January for interested entrepreneurs. The educational series continues at 2 p.m. on Feb. 15 when trade show expert Russell Hood explains how to make the most of limited money and time to have a productive international trade show experience.
Trade shows have been lucrative for companies like Wyoming Authentic Products.
“Taiwan, Japan, Belgium, Denmark, all over the world there is interest in what we are doing,” Fales said. “It’s just a matter of time and capital, as any small business knows, to make that a reality.”
The Business Council understands the challenges small businesses face. That’s why the agency offers trade show incentive grants to help companies pay up to half their expenses to attend trade shows. Another program provides local public organizations with money to help build infrastructure like streets, sewer and buildings. The organization can then lease that property to businesses like Wyoming Authentic Products.
“The $1.2 million grant to the city of Cody was essential for us to get where we are today,” Fales said. “The key was building a U.S. Department of Agriculture certified plant.”
Thanks to the new facility, Wyoming Authentic Products can manufacture beef sticks, jerky and other products, which add value to meat trimmings otherwise destined to be sold as hamburger for far less money.
The process gives dozens of Wyoming ranchers a new market for their beef. It also turns raw natural resources into new products with better profits.
The business has an annual payroll of $547,000 and employs 20 people.
Wyoming Authentic Products’ path resembles that taken by another company in the region. Powell-based GF Harvest uses Wyoming-grown oats to make more valuable gluten-free products like granola and oatmeal.
GF Harvest also has its origins in family values.
“It all goes back to wanting to bake cookies with my grandma,” said Forrest Smith, company founder.
Smith is a celiac. It means his body mistakenly attacks a certain protein found in wheat, rye and barley, which makes him sick. His mom has it. So does his dad, and his grandmother.
A high school project to start his own business flourished into what is today a factory employing 18 people.
Growing up, Smith remembers shopping trips taking hours. Every time a new product hit the shelf, or an old product was revamped, the family would take down a phone number on the back of the box and call to find out what ingredients were used and how the food was processed.
He personally inspects every step of his process to ensure other families don’t have those concerns when buying his products.
It starts in the mill before the sun rises. Smith and a crowd of seasonal employees gather to discuss the morning’s duties. They carpool to one of the farmers who grows crops for GF Harvest. Nearly all of the company’s product is grown within 40 miles of Powell.
The workers begin walking the field at sunrise because the golden rays of early morning light glint off barley and other invading crops, making them shine like fiberoptic cables amid the oats. It makes it easier for Smith and his employees to root out the offending plants.
“From planting to packaging, we control what is in our oats. I give seeds to the growers, I’m inspecting the fields, I pull out the bad plants, I check the truck before it unloads in our facility, I check the storage,” Smith said. “Everything is dedicated gluten free.”
The extensive process means GF Harvest is twice as stringent as federal guidelines dictate for gluten-free food.
Wholesalers internationally have taken notice. The company has exported to Australia, Scotland and England and is currently working to send product to Canada.
“As we grew, I realized we needed more expertise and resources to learn about equipment, about paperwork, so we reached out to the Wyoming Business Council and other state groups to find out how to export.”
The Business Council helped send GF Harvest to Natural Products Expo West in California, one of the country’s largest agriculture trade shows. There, Smith and his family met interested wholesalers.
The agency also connected the business with organizations like the Western United States Agricultural Trade Association, which could help pay for some of the costs associated with exporting.
“Exporting brings new money into our area, and that’s good for everybody here,” Smith said. “We add value to the crops our neighbors grow and create demand for Wyoming products all around the world.”
State officials hope to attract about 35 firms like GF Harvest and Wyoming Authentic Products to the free webinars on exporting. Companies interested in taking the next step after listening to those classes can receive mentorship in creating export plans during a three-month education session.
The STEP grant provides the Business Council with money to send businesses to targeted international trade shows in the mining, outdoor and firearms industries.
The Business Council’s goal is to double export sales for companies participating in these shows.
Another facet of the STEP grant will be the International Trade Show Incentive Grant. Participating businesses can receive up to $3,500 in reimbursements for travel to international expos designed to increase exposure and sales.
The STEP grant will also fund a trade mission to the Pacific Rim specifically to help agricultural producers increase export sales by holding personal meetings with international buyers.
Exports are a key driver of any economy because they bring outside money into local circulation. Wyoming’s export market is small, but growing fast. International trade in Wyoming grew 19.4 percent from 2010 to 2015, according to the International Trade Administration. Wyoming businesses now sell about $1.2 billion in exports in 2015.
Exports feature prominently in the Business Council’s strategy to grow Wyoming’s economy. The agency intends to double foreign direct investment and increase the state’s exports by 50 percent.
Business Council staff will accomplish those goals, in part, by coordinating and developing foreign trade efforts like those planned under the STEP grant.
For more information, visit http://www.wyomingbusiness.org/step.
To sign up for the exporting webinar series, visit http://www.wyomingsbdc.org/index.php/find-training/events.