Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts at a podium for a press conference.
Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts (podium) announces a trade mission to Ireland and the United Kingdom at a Feb. 7 press conference. The trip will take place this August, in the same week as Nebraska football’s season opener in Ireland. Photo courtesy of the Office of Governor Pete Ricketts.

When the Nebraska football team heads to Ireland in August, Governor Pete Ricketts and other state leaders will also be heading to Europe with a different, but related objective. 

Ricketts announced in early February that he will be leading a trade mission to the United Kingdom and Ireland. 

“Trade is very important to the state of Nebraska,” Ricketts said at a Feb. 7 press conference announcing the trip. “In a given year, we’ll export about $10 billion worth of goods and services.” 

The Nebraska Department of Agriculture (NDA) and Nebraska Department of Economic Development (DED) will assist in leading the trade mission, according to a press release. 

Ricketts said Nebraska accounts for about 40% of the United States’ beef exports to the European Union, more than any other state. He added that companies from both countries they’ll visit have made investments in Nebraska that have created about 6,000 jobs. The point of this mission will be to maintain the progression of the state’s relationship with those countries, according to Ricketts. 

“We want to look to continue to develop those international trade relationships, to be able to find more markets for our products and services, get more investment back here into the state of Nebraska,” he said.  

DED Director of International Business and Recruitment Cobus Block reaffirmed this point, saying that the mission will open doors for businesses to get into markets they haven’t been able to reach before. 

“We want to find links for more business between the state and the UK and Ireland,” Block said. “We also want to help open doors for companies that might otherwise stay shut,”

The trip will take place from Aug. 20 and last until Aug. 28. Nebraska football’s matchup with Northwestern in Ireland is on the 27th. Block and his team are responsible for coordinating with partnering businesses and setting up events on the trip. 

The governor said that while they’re going there for much more than the football game, he does see it as an advantage.

“Since we have the ability to work with the businesses and the countries to be able to schedule this, we’re not doing it around a particular event,” Ricketts said in the press conference. “We were able to do it around the Husker game so that we would be able to highlight Nebraska and structure some events around that to help promote our state.”

Ricketts didn’t go into detail about what those events could entail but said since many fans will be in Ireland for the game, the game is a perfect opportunity to show off the great people of Nebraska. 

There is precedent for Nebraska trade missions being conducted around the times football games take place. The most notable example would be the football team’s last trip out of the country in December of 1992, when they played Kansas State in the Coca-Cola Bowl in Tokyo, Japan. 

Then-governor Ben Nelson led a trade mission to Tokyo with about 40 Nebraskans for the purposes of tourism, investment and educational exchange, according to a 1992 Lincoln Star article. Nelson acknowledged the significant impact that Husker football could have on the trip.

“That certainly is part of the hype for Nebraska,” he said in the story published on July 5, 1992. “Football gets a great deal of attention and publicity. It puts Nebraska in a special light for them while we’re there.”

The timing can also bring skepticism, but building these relationships is something that has received support from both major political parties. Jane Kleeb, chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party, recently met with ambassadors from Ireland on a similar topic. 

“They were definitely talking about how they want to increase both exports to America, including to Nebraska, as well as imports into their country,” Kleeb said. “When you have a country like Ireland that shares so many of our democratic values, as a country, as a state, those are the countries that we should be prioritizing, strengthening those trade bonds.”

As far as Ricketts goes, Kleeb is happy the trade mission is happening and there’s a chance for progress. In fact, she said that there’s not enough being done on trade in the state. 

Kleeb said that she’d like to see the structure change so that the state has someone specifically assigned to handling exports and imports to the state from other countries.  

“I’d rather somebody be doing trade missions on a full-time basis that is elected by the people of Nebraska,” Kleeb said. “It is such an important role for us being an agricultural state, that we have somebody who is constantly creating relationships with Taiwan, with Ireland, with England, with China. Because that’s how we’ll be able to grow our state.”

For now, there’s no sign of the plans for the trade mission changing. Ricketts, Block and others will attend the game in-person in August, along with striving for economic progress.  

“Any time there is a big event like this that allows us to showcase the state, it is a great opportunity for us,” Block said. “First, it gives us a lot of public attention that we can build off of. Second, it can help build a lot of goodwill. Dublin is going to be flooded with Nebraska fans, who will give their hosts a great impression of our state.”