When North American Bison (NAB, LLC) and their flagship brand of bison, TenderBison, with headquarters in Fargo, ND, began thinking about expanding their processing and distribution center in New Rockford, ND, they knew there was a lot of hard work ahead of them. One of their first orders of business was to find a local bank partner with whom they could build a relationship that would be with them throughout their expansion.
They found that partner in Dan Staller, Market President for Starion Bank. An ideal local bank partner according to NAB, LLC’s CFO Tim Lundstrom, "When you are home grown like Dan, and working in a community, there is passion and love for what you are doing. You know you are going to help families and schools and keep good quality jobs in your neighborhood." Starion Bank in turn partnered with the Red River Corridor Fund (RRCF) to provide collateral support for equipment refinancing that enabled the business to put the first piece of the financing puzzle in place. "We would never have gotten here if RRCF hadn’t gotten that first piece done," said Staller.
The business is now finalizing financing for the expansion project, which is needed more than ever as business continues to grow, having fared well in the current environment. Jim Wells, President & CEO of NAB, LLC, explains, "When the pandemic hit, several beef, pork and chicken plants shut down, and demand for bison grew. This was our [the bison industry’s] silver lining."
Regenerative Agriculture According to the National Bison Association, "regenerative agriculture practices increase soil biodiversity and organic matter, leading to more resilient soils that can better withstand climate change impacts like flooding and drought. Bison once roamed the continent freely, helping sustain plains and prairies ecosystems as a keystone species through grazing, fertilization, trampling and other natural behaviors." There are 183,780 bison in the US on 1,775 private ranches, with additional state and federal herds, bringing the total US population to 362,406, according to the USDA 2017 census. There were less than 1,000 bison prior to 1900, when efforts began to preserve and restore the species.
This small business’s roots run deep.
NAB, LLC has been doing regenerative ranching and bringing bison herds back to their glory for nearly three decades. "The number of people who want this product exceeds our capacity. We could have said this is as good as it gets. However, our ranchers have said they want to make bison a larger piece of their business model. Which is why we have been driving this initiative to invest and grow. Our household penetration has almost doubled. When you double, you have to produce more," said Wells.
NAB, LLC began as an independent rancher’s cooperative and converted to an LLC a few years ago. Today, the rancher’s co-op owns 25% of the company and additional ranchers and investors have joined in. Wells explains, "We raise bison because of what they bring to regenerative ranching. They roam wild and free. There was no real facility to process the meat. So, in 1993 a group of independent ranchers invested and created this facility that enabled ranchers to work with experts in finance, sales, marketing, processing and distribution, allowing them to focus on growing their herds."
The New Rockford processing and distribution facility currently employs 57 people full-time and is looking to increase staffing as it expands. In a town of 1,300 people, that is a lot. So many in fact that the company is the second largest employer in Eddy County. The business employs people from the region and feels a responsibility to make a contribution to the community, through jobs as well as caring for the environment.
"I believe we are doing good for mother earth, growing bison herds and practicing regenerative ranching. Starion Bank and the Red River Corridor Fund enabled and helped us when we needed it." - Jim Wells, President & CEO
The Red River Corridor Fund creates jobs by helping small business access capital. The fund was initially created with funding from the U.S. Department of Treasury as a part of the State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI) program and is now an evergreen fund. The RRCF is a coalition of 36 municipalities who joined together to bring this capital resource to their communities. Praxis Strategy Group and Development Capital Networks manage RRCF's capital resources on behalf of the consortium to foster small business growth and enhance job creation throughout the state of North Dakota. Starion Bank is a participating lending partner.