Schollmeyer Engineering started, as many farm equipment businesses do, as a farmer filling his own needs.
Clarence Schollmeyer created a foldable, removable, high-clearance crop sprayer cradle, to better transport the awkward sprayers. He started marketing it less than two years ago, started officially building and selling it about five years ago.
Schollmeyer never thought he'd sell the sprayer past his own county's farmers. Now, 10 percent of his sales are export, and he expects that to rise to 25 percent within a year.
That exporting started from a phone call to Bismarck resident and North Dakota Trade Office representative Cherie Harms.
"We were mostly just trying to figure out how to break into the Canadian market at the time," Schollmeyer said of his first phone call with Harms. "We discussed the hoops we'd have to jump through to get into Canada. I asked her, 'How does a person do it?' And she said, 'Well, that's why we're here.'"
The North Dakota Trade Office has been described as an international cheerleader of North Dakota businesses and products. Which puts Harms, who works alone from her home basement office, on the solid base of that cheerleading pyramid.
"Cherie is very committed to this mission," said NDTO director Susan Geib. "She is dedicated to North Dakota, to building export volume. She has taken this entire organization from concept to reality, and really driven a good portion of it, particularly in western North Dakota."
Four years ago, together with Geib, Harms responded to the request for proposalto do export barriers and opportunities research. What they found, Harms said, was incredible demand for information.
"We just found all this pent-up demand for information and assistance,"Harms said. "We thought, there needs to be an office like this."
They wrote through their research in January 2004, and started the group that would become NDTOby March.
Harms, a North Dakota native, grew up in Dickinson and has a strong background in television advertising sales. After working in Bismarck for a local station, she managed a sound studio and eventually partnered to buy Makoche Recording Co., where she began to do some minor exporting, she said.
Through that experience, she became involved with the North Dakota Exporting Council, and the rest is currently making North Dakota history.
The NDTOhas identified more than 400 businesses in the state that export, and part of Harms' job is finding more, scouring the western half of North Dakota for businesses that have solid plans in place and are ready to move internationally.
Like Schollmeyer's business, for example.
It helps that she's a NorthDakota native who's lived all over the state, she said. In fact, after talking with Schollmeyer for a couple of minutes during their initial contact, they realized they were "shirt-tail relatives."
And it probably helps that she somehow manages to do everything from writing grants, securing information and traveling to and educating businesses, to setting up conferences and seminars, all while working from home.
Her job title is business development director, officially, Geib said. But Harms will do whatever she can.
"She just does whatever is needed, " Geib said. "Obviously, the business is growing pretty quickly. So she just does whatever needs to be done."
It's a fantastic juggling act, and sometimes that can be the most challenging part of her job, Harms said. Especially when working from home, missing office banter or "hallway talk,"as she calls it.
"You have to be able to ignore the piles of laundry, the dirty dishes, and just go to your office and work,"she said. "And I'm an extrovert, so it's kind of hard to sit in the basement."
She certainly is an extrovert, with a chatty personality and a relentless, never-quit attitude.
"She's passionate about it,"Schollmeyer said. "She bends over backwards to do everything she can to help. Obviously, nobody knows everything, but she knows where to look."
And she fully admits she doesn't know everything. That's why she's been partnering with international students at Dickinson State University, and plans to build another NDTOoffice based there in the near future.
"That's been really fun, and really interesting,"Harms said. "I've learned more from the students in Dickinson than they've probably learned from me."
(Reach reporter Crystal Reid at 250-8261 or at crystal.reid@;bismarcktribune.com.)