Nystrom CEO joins Minnesota congressman Keith Ellison on trade mission to Saudi Arabia

WASHINGTON — Rep. Keith Ellison’s last trip to Saudi Arabia was personal. This time, it’s business.

The Minnesota Democrat, the first Muslim in Congress, joined with the Minnesota Trade Office and 11 Minnesota companies as they set off Friday for a trade mission to Saudi Arabia. The group is expected to meet with business and government leaders there for the next five days.

The trip follows Ellison’s personal voyage to Saudi Arabia in December, when he made a pilgrimage to Mecca. He termed the trip “transformative.”

This time, on his third visit to Saudi Arabia, he’s hoping to bring home a little business.

“Minnesota companies recognize the expanding range of business opportunities that exist in the kingdom for U.S. firms,” Ellison said in a statement Friday. “They are eager to cooperate with Saudi business partners to bring cutting edge Minnesota products and technology to them.”

Saudi Arabia has increasingly become a significant export market for American businesses. Minnesota companies exported more than $66 million in manufactured goods to Saudi Arabia in 2008, an increase of 32 percent over the previous year.

The mission is being organized and led by the U.S. Saudi Arabian Business Council.

Minnesota companies participating include: Hormel Institute for cancer research (associated with the Mayo Clinic) and UnitedHealth Insurance; Equaris Corp. and Watermark Initiative (water resource service and product offerings); Thor Construction (the largest African-American-owned construction company in the world), Nystrom Inc. and Tandem products from the construction arena; Aqua Sales (heat exchange tube cleaning systems); the Faegre & Benson law firm; Nilfisk-Advance (commercial and industrial floor cleaning equipment makers); and Phygen Coatings (offering a thin-film coating technology that reduces metal wear in metal fabrication).

KEVIN DIAZ