Correction: Leocadia Zak, director of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, and Grant Tennille, former executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, spoke April 2 at the Clinton School of Public Service. This story incorrectly listed what day Zak and Tennille spoke on developing export markets for Arkansas businesses.
Arkansas businesses interested in exporting their products should look to growing energy, transportation and telecommunication needs of developing countries, the director of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency said Tuesday.
Leocadia Zak said opportunities exist for large and small companies, adding that many times, small businesses don't realize that their products are incorporated into a finished product that's eventually exported.
"The market right now is outside of the United States," Zak said during a talk at the Clinton School of Public Service in Little Rock. "With telecommunications, with transportation the way it is, it is open to small businesses as well as large businesses to be able to get their products outside of the United States as an export."
Zak said her agency, which has a $60 million budget, helps economic development in emerging nations by providing contacts and technical assistance for products and services that enable U.S. manufacturers to effectively compete. This in turn generates U.S. jobs through increased exports.
Grant Tennille, former director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, appeared with Zak and said that he's learned in his travels promoting the state that it can take years for businesses to develop enough trust to work out deals in a foreign country.
Arkansas businesses need to be in a position to offer their products to countries in Africa as they work to improve their infrastructure, such as electric grids and transportation networks.
Tennille noted that two Northwest Arkansas companies are working to develop more efficient solar panels that could be used overseas.
"We want technology that was invented at the University of Arkansas and machines invented at the University of Arkansas to wind up in Africa, improving these solar panels," Tennille said. "It's not just generation in Africa, it's transmission," he said, referring to the opportunity the Big River Steel mill now under construction near Osceola offers with its plans to initially produce steel suitable for use by the electric industry.
Zak said her agency provides a consistent link, even as political leaders change and trade policies evolve.
"It's about meeting people and then doing business," Zak said. The agency also sponsors reverse trade missions where they bring foreign leaders and business people to the U.S. so they develop relationships and learn details about how U.S. businesses operate.
As an example, she cited efforts by the agency to work with a delegation from Vietnam as the country was gearing up to develop a wind farm to generate electricity. Eventually, the country inked a deal to buy U.S.-made wind turbines.
"We help do the planning with the goal of making sure that U.S. technology was used," Zak said.
"Oftentimes, small businesses are exporters and they don't know it," she said, by supplying other businesses that send finished products abroad.
Zak said trade deals, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership now being negotiated, dominate international markets. Striking such deals help U.S. businesses gain access to foreign markets while addressing issues such as environmental practices and worker rights, she said.
And, the U.S. Export-Import Bank, which helps reduce the risk for businesses that export their products, "levels the playing field for U.S. businesses," Zak said. She said that China's version of the bank has financed as much in two years as the U.S. Export-Import Bank has done over the past 80 years. Congress is now debating whether to reauthorize the bank.
While other industries get much of the attention, agriculture can't be forgotten, Zak said.
Tennille agreed, saying that agriculture dwarfs other industries in the state. But, he said the state needs to push for more plants that process food, rather than shipping commodities out-of-state.
"We've got to start adding value onto the products we produce," Tennille said.
After her talk, Zak said her agency works on "practical implementation" of the trade policies and pacts developed by the U.S. Trade Representative, who, with other agencies, negotiates trade deals. She said about $76 in U.S. exports is generated by $1 spent by her office on its programs.
Business on 04/03/2015