Test case scenario-Montana World Trade Center program hopes to put regional products in the hands of consumers in Ireland, Taiwan

On the top floor in one of the few
buildings western Montanans call a
high rise, Mark Porter toils away in
his one-man office in downtown
Missoula trying to make a go of his
one-man business.

By BETSY COHEN of the Missoulian

He’s a camping coffee connoisseur
who brewed up the idea of a
lightweight, portable French press for
the back country and soon found
himself steeped in his own
organically grown business.

For the past six years, the former fishing guide has been navigating the uncharted territory called
entrepreneurship with slow, careful steps. The going can be rough and hostile, he said, for fledgling
businesses that nest in the Rocky Mountain region – the least populated region of the United States.

Still, he’s been able to keep alive by tinkering with his product line of coffee presses – which has
evolved into 10 different models – and looking for paths that lead into the world market.

Now he hopes he’s stumbled upon a promising opportunity with the Montana World Trade Center at
the University of Montana, which is organizing a test market program to place regional art, food,
outdoor products, sporting goods and home-furnishing products in Ireland and Taiwan.

"Being small, you have so much to be concerned about," Porter said. "With this program it will be so
great to have other people who have all the know-how and the connections do the leg work and

To sell regional goods like Porter’s coffee presses or huckleberry chocolates or Western art overseas
really isn’t such a foreign idea, said Fraser McLeay, senior manager at the Montana World Trade

"In Taiwan and Asia, the cultures are very much interested in natural beauty and the pure, mountain
image of our region," McLeay said. "In Ireland, there is a lot of mystique about the American West.
And, there already is a strong connection to the large Montana Irish community – with more and more
people traveling back and forth between the countries."

Until June 28, manufacturing companies and artisans from Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota,
Idaho and Wyoming are encouraged to contact the center about having their creations considered for
the program, officially called Rocky Mountain Market.

By mid-July, organizers of the program hope to have a catalogue of the products and information
about each item on a Web site.

Come autumn, selected manufacturers will have their products showcased in Ireland for about three
months, in galleries and exhibitions researched by the center staff, McLeay said. During that time the
business owners, craftspeople and artisans will learn about modifications or changes that need to be
made in order to be successful in the European market.

Next spring, Western artwork will be showcased in a gallery tour of Ireland, organized with the help of
Geoffrey Sutton, owner of Sutton West Gallery in Missoula.

The program won’t extend to Taiwan until sometime in 2003.

"This is a great opportunity for artists to broaden their market," Sutton said. "Whether or not cowboy
art and Western landscapes will sell in these markets – we don’t know. That’s part of the roll of the

"We don’t know exactly what the products are that will appeal to audiences outside of here," he said.
"But I do know that in Ireland the thing they are familiar with is horses, fishing and hunting – and that’s
something we know well."

Expenses for the artisans and companies who become involved with the program are minimal and
mostly related to providing background material and insurance for their goods, McLeay said. The rest
of the bill is footed by the program.

"It is subsidizing about 90 percent of the cost if the businesses had to do it themselves," he said.

"What we are all hoping for is that this will help establish long-term relationships with dealers and
buyers overseas," McLeay said. "There are great opportunities in the international market."

Ireland is the first test site because it is an English-speaking country, which will make it easier for
business people and artisans to learn about international trade rules and regulations and make basic
product communication smoother, said Brigitta Freer, co-director of the program.

"The cost incurred in translating packaging and sales material into another language can be
substantial," Freer said. "Experience gained and lessons learned in this market will be valuable to
companies as they consider other larger markets."

Whatever the outcome, Porter said, the journey will be worth the effort.

"It’s always an adventure to expose your product," he said. "It will be kind of fun."

Reporter Betsy Cohen can be reached at 523-5253 or at [email protected]

If you’re interested

For more information, call the Montana World Trade Center at 243-6982 or log on to

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