This South Dakota business leader is looking forward to networking in Winnipeg at Centrallia

Rock Nelson is a fifth generation South Dakotan—and South Dakota is in a different country a few thousand kilometres from Winnipeg, Manitoba—but he is an admirer of the province’s entrepreneurial spirit.

That may be because his state and the Canadian province have so much in common, having built strong, diversified economies despite being distant from major consumer markets, having harsh climates and relatively small populations.

Rock, director of the South Dakota International Trade Center, has developed such strong links with his Manitoba counterparts that he has taken large delegations from the state to the two Centrallia business-to-business events that have been held in Winnipeg since 2010, with plans to attend the third this May 25-27.

“They’re good people,” says Rock of his counterparts at World Trade Center Winnipeg, which is hosting the Centrallia event. “When they put on a show or event it’s done right. I wouldn’t expose my clients to it if it wasn’t.”

Described as a speed-dating opportunity for small and medium-sized businesses, it’s the fourth such event that has been held in Winnipeg. It is expected to attract 700 participants from throughout Canada and 30 countries around the world to Winnipeg’s RBC Convention Centre. The goal is to connect companies with new opportunities in domestic and international markets.

Nelson sees Centrallia as a key event to advance the interests of South Dakota businesses.

“The benefit is that all the participants are somewhat vetted ahead of time,” he said. “I can get on a plane and go to France or Finland, but I can do that at Centrallia and it’s all under one roof.”

As head of the South Dakota International Trade Center, Rock represents a much larger geographical footprint, which includes part of Minnesota, northwest Iowa and northeastern Nebraska.

“When a client has issues about importing or has exporting issues they come to see us,” he said. “My services are provided for free.”

While agriculture is the state’s economic mainstay (it is the leading producer in the U.S. of oats, barley, rye, flaxseed and alfalfa), it no longer leads the state in employment or share of gross state product. Manufacturing is now the economic driver, along with the service sector. Tourism is also a major part of its economy, with world-famed Mount Rushmore, the Black Hills and the Badlands drawing millions of visitors to the state each year.

Click here for more information about Centrallia.

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