Business, agricultural and education groups are joining forces to expand Nebraska's reach into international markets that generate billions of dollars annually, Gov. Pete Ricketts announced Thursday.
Ricketts launched a new international trade council to identify business and research opportunities overseas. The group will also develop a long-term strategy for building on existing trade relationships and finding new ones.
"International trade and engagement is a crucial part of our state's long-term growth," Ricketts said at a news conference.
The council's membership includes leaders from 20 different groups, including Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson, Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Barry Kennedy, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie Green.
Ricketts said council members will use their existing relationships to help other Nebraska groups that want to expand overseas. They often assist one another informally, he said, but an official council that meets regularly will ensure good communication.
His announcement came just before the second annual Governor's Summit on Economic Development in Lincoln.
Dan Nerud, a Dorchester farmer and vice president for the Nebraska Corn Growers Association, said the effort is particularly important because so many of the state's markets lie beyond the nation's borders.
Last month, Nebraska meatpackers resumed shipments to China after a 14-year hiatus amid fears over mad cow disease. Japan is a major consumer of Nebraska corn and Mexico purchases a substantial amount of the state's pork.
"We must continue to expand upon these opportunities," Nerud said. "Our competition is not standing still, and neither should we."
Green said the university will play a role through its ongoing research and education. The council is designed to draw new investments in the state's major industries, including manufacturing, biofuels and value-added agriculture.
"It's a great move forward for the state," Green said.
Ricketts said the group won't focus on any particular region, even though many of his recent trade missions have focused on Asia and Europe. Last month, the governor announced a new trade mission to Canada in August.
Kennedy said the state's exports are critical even to small businesses that provide many of the state's jobs.
"It creates employment opportunities, it gives people the opportunity to live here in Nebraska, buy homes here, pay taxes here, contribute to growing our economy and making an overall better quality of life for all of us," Kennedy said.