Kenmare ND - Upside Down Under

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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


Could it be poor marketing?...

Posted 11/28/17 (Tue)

Over the years, the North Dakota Department of Commerce, the Ag Department, the Tourism Department and others have promoted a lot of businesses that no longer exist.

Many of these businesses were opening ag-related, value-added enterprises in a state steeped in agriculture.

But they couldn’t make it. What happened to them? Was it poor marketing, could it have been lack of financing, maybe they couldn’t find any customers? Whatever it was, those failed businesses were originally promoted as the shining stars on the prairie.

The first one that comes to mind is Bushel 42 Pasta Co., in Crosby. This was a cooperative that had more than 200 members, hired a manager who was well experienced in food production, got an abandoned retail building cheap and had plenty of durum wheat in the neighborhood that negated what could have been expensive transportation costs.

So what went wrong? Apparently, making colored noodles for other companies wasn’t profitable.

One brand called Mrs. Leeper’s, still exists today after being bought out by a Kansas City company, but it wasn’t feasible with a Crosby, North Dakota base.

Fifty people lost their jobs and nobody really knows if co-op members got their seed money back.

Earth Harvest Mills in Harvey was another interesting phenomenon. It was an organic flour mill with cereals being brought in from as far away as the foothills of the Rockies in Montana to parts of Illinois.

When the company opened, it showcased its Italian pasta making equipment. It even brought manufacturers in from Italy to explain the process to the media during a tour of the facility.

Everything was going great and markets were being established. You’d see management set up as vendors at major trade shows including Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, a showing that brings in well over 100,000 businesses every March.

All of a sudden, and most likely to the surprise of everyone in Harvey, the plant was closed and an explanation for the closure was never really stated.

Harvey also had the misfortune of losing its Halal Beef Processing plant in the Harvey Industrial Park.

It opened in a state-of-the-art facility, changed its name after a couple of years and a couple of years after that, told the media there were too many challenges in the start-up phase.

Ironically, Harvey had yet another operation that failed a number of years ago. I don’t remember the name of the facility any longer, but it manufactured hot, instant barley cereal.

For years those cereal packets were available in Army dining halls across the globe in case you didn’t like the eggs to order. It was healthy cereal and if it had a contract with the Army, what could have possibly caused it to fail?

Gradma Campbell’s Potato Chips in Grafton wasn’t so much a failure as it was a threat. This was a popular potato chip company in the late ‘80s and ‘90s that was essentially forced out of business by the Campbell Soup Co., on the threat of a lawsuit infringing on the Campbell name.

Unfortunately, the family name of those operating the potato chip manufacturer is Campbell. They must have agreed not to fight Goliath because the chips faded out.

Many of us will remember the Honduran potato deal in 1986 when North Dakota got stiffed after sending 400,000 pounds of Red River Valley seed potatoes to Honduras.

Ag Commissioner Kent Jones was working with William Messner, a middle man from Miami who set up the deal. Unfortunately, the Honduran government didn’t have the money to pay for that intitial shipment of potatoes and Messner tried to bribe Jones and others into signing a five-year memorandum.

Messner was arrested a couple of years later in New Orleans and Jones, who had a big egg on his face, told the Chicago Tribune that the publicity set North Dakota’s ag exporting back a number of years.

On the other hand, Case-IH, Bobcat, Steiger, the Mill & Elevator, Baker Boy Bakery, Dakota Growers Pasta and numerous others have enjoyed many years of success and have put hundreds of North Dakota residents to work.

What were their secrets and why did they succeed when similar businesses didn’t?

Lack of management or marketing, start-up debt, unscrupulous employees; whatever it’s been, failures ought to be analyzed to prevent it in the future.