Ryan Kanne's mission is to help Minnesota companies boost their exports.

He's the Minneapolis director of the U.S. Commercial Service, whose network of staff members in the nation's embassies and consulates serve as eyes, ears, and meeting organizers for any U.S. company looking to sell products or services around the world.

Kanne and his staff work in Minnesota to help businesses tap into that network. We asked how the service works.

QWhy should companies contact you?

AIf you have a website, you're global whether you like it or not. So we help put companies on the right path to exporting and help them avoid costly mistakes that could set back their businesses. I just had a company that sent me a note that said, "Hey, we just got this international order. It's the biggest order we've ever gotten." I sent it to one of our offices in Africa and they came back and said this is a scam, the address doesn't exist. We're your information broker. We become an extension of Minnesota companies to help them not only police inquiries, but also say, OK, how do we get you international faster, quicker and cheaper.

QWhat are the obstacles for companies that want to export?

AMany firms falsely believe that exporting is too burdensome or that their products or services won't sell overseas. Fact is, if you have a track record of selling in the U.S., one of the world's most open and competitive markets, you have good potential for making overseas sales. We do customized market research, and something called a single company promotion: We create a mini trade show for U.S. companies in other countries. You travel to the country, you give a presentation with your distributor, and get connected with dozens of potential purchasers. That's much faster than traveling with your distributor in the market for days or weeks at a time meeting potential customers one at a time.

QCan you explain the Gold Key Service?

AWe give you a two-page form that says, "What does your ideal partner look like?" Then our office in Sao Paulo, Brazil, will go out, contact a bunch of companies based on your criteria, and then you actually travel down to Sao Paulo and have one-on-one meetings, usually four to six meetings a day. We can help arrange your hotel, interpreter, translator and also transportation.

QHow much does it cost for a company to get help from the U.S. Commercial Service?

AWe counsel and answer questions for free, but it depends on what the company is asking for. For example, our Gold Key Service can cost $700 for a small company or $2,300 for a large-sized company. Most of our companies report that our services have been well worth the investment. Last fiscal year, the U.S. Commercial Service worldwide facilitated $54 billion in U.S. export sales.

QHow many companies are you working with?

A357. Those are the ones that regularly contact us. We probably have 2,000 companies that contact us two, three, four times a year. There's a lot that we do.

Adam Belz • 612-673-4405