By TOM DIXON
Senior Communications Specialist
Tom Balding made the drive to a Gillette trade show with a card table in the back of his 1971 Ford Ranchero and $30 to his name.
He had poured nearly every penny he had into some land just outside Sheridan, a trailer to live in and another trailer to serve as his shop. A professional welder, he had uprooted his Southern California life and was trying to make a go of selling custom bits and spurs for horses.
If he didn’t make some sales soon, he wouldn’t be able to make the payment on his land.
“I struggled that first year. I literally wasn’t selling anything,” said Balding, owner of Tom Balding Bits and Spurs in Sheridan. “I had to go back to California for contract jobs to keep things going.”
At the show, people lined up for the chance to purchase his custom tack.
He took enough orders to make his land payment. Balding called it a turning point.
That was 1984. Today, Tom Balding Bits and Spurs sells about 4,000 units a year all over the United States and internationally. He believes the company will hit $1 million in sales this year.
Small businesses like Balding’s comprise about 76 percent percent of all exporters in Wyoming. The state sold $1.8 billion in exports last year, according to the International Trade Administration.
Cottage industry manufacturers like Tom Balding sell to a wide swath of the globe, according to Matthew Melinkovich, field engineer with Manufacturing-Works.
Much of Wyoming’s energy industry exports to South America, but one exception is Buffalo-based Mine Rite.
The company ships off-road truck bodies to mining sites in Africa, New Guinea and Australia. Until recently, exports were 60 percent of Mine Rite’s business, said part-owner and Director of Sales Dennis Frank.
Mine Rite vehicles range in size from 40 to 400 tons. Some are as large as a two-story house. It takes six to 10 weeks to build the truck body, then crews split the vehicle into four pieces and ship them in two bundles.
It can take two to three months to deliver to the site. Mine Rite crews spend another eight months reassembling the vehicle.
Most of Frank’s 24 employees are from Johnson and Sheridan counties, he said. Those employees include graduates of local welding programs.
Good schools, plentiful recreation and a small-town atmosphere help the company nurture what Frank called long-term, dedicated employees.
Infrastructure is another advantage of Mine Rite’s location. Two interstates criss-cross Buffalo, running in every cardinal direction.
Operating in Wyoming also means having state resources like Manufacturing-Works available.
Frank said Mine Rite has tapped into the agency’s website design expertise and marketing assistance for things like promotional brochures.
Manufacturing Works has helped Balding identify potential markets and make contacts with stores worldwide.
Balding and several of his employees have also attended export workshops.
“It was amazing,” Balding said. “I was really flattered that we could get the focused attention of these experts even as a small manufacturer. I thought, ‘This is really cool that the state cares about us, too.’”
In two of the last three years, Manufacturing-Works has brought in export experts to educate clients on how to avoid problems that could otherwise lead to their companies not getting paid or having their products sitting on a dock and not being unloaded.
“We help companies grow their business through everything from making things more efficient to providing training,” Melinkovich explained.