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Export council honors state's business survivors of covid pandemic

by Andrew Moreau | October 17, 2021 at 1:52 a.m.

After more than a decade of recognizing exporters primarily for their successes in trade-related activities, this year the Arkansas District Export Council is awarding businesses for innovative approaches implemented to survive the pandemic.

Last week, the 2021 governor's export awards were given to companies that outlasted the economic effects of the pandemic and retained at least 95% of their workforce. Export awards were handed out by Gov. Asa Hutchinson to business winners in the large, medium and small categories.

Brazil-based steel producer Gerdau, which has a manufacturing plant in Fort Smith, won the large-business category. The company has facilities in 10 countries and its North America operations serve the agriculture, energy, industrial, automotive and manufacturing sectors.

Alliance Rubber Co. has been producing rubber bands in its Hot Springs facility since 1923. The company, recognized as the top exporter in the medium-size-business category, sells its product in more than 55 countries.

Ecojohn, based in North Little Rock, has been producing waste-management products -- specially built toilets -- for more than 30 years for off-grid sites that include cottages, guest houses and recreational vehicles. Its products include waterless incinerating toilets and wastewater incinerators that eliminate the need for a septic tank or dumping black water tanks. The company was recognized as the state's top small-business exporter.

Like most sectors, the exporting community suffered through pandemic-ridden 2020 as goods shipped abroad declined in every state but two -- New Jersey and Oregon.

Census Bureau data show that exports from Arkansas decreased by nearly 17% from 2019 to 2020 as total exports decreased to nearly $5.2 billion. Weapon-related products -- aircraft, engines and parts top the list -- remained the state's top export while rice was next. The top five was rounded out by chemical wood pulp, eggs and frozen poultry.

Arkansas is not alone in aircraft exports -- it was the most common category of exports in the United States as 17 states had their biggest export coming from that group.

The Arkansas World Trade Center in Rogers reports the state has exported more than $68 billion in goods since 2008 and that 350,000 Arkansas jobs are supported by trade.

In the United States, about $1.43 trillion in goods was exported last year and Texas was by far the largest state with nearly $280 billion in exported products, about 20% of the nation's total.

Canada and Mexico are the top two export destinations for goods produced in Arkansas and the nation.

The top exporting companies in the United States in 2020 were ExxonMobil, Apple, Ford Motor Co., Chevron and General Motors.

At last week's awards, Leather Brothers Inc., which produces pet collars in Conway, was recognized as a rising star; Lycus Ltd., a chemical plant in El Dorado, won the resilience in manufacturing award; and Chandler Equipment, producer of spreaders for fertilizer, seeds and rocks in Springdale, was recognized for its innovation in manufacturing.

Members of the Arkansas District Export Council are appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce. The council is a nonprofit organization led by exporters and business leaders who regularly provide support services to exporting companies.


The U.S. Small Business Administration is promoting its low-interest disaster loans as a financial solution for businesses still seeking economic relief from the ongoing pandemic, now that the agency's Paycheck Protection Program is over.

The Economic Injury Disaster Loan program provides low-interest, long-term loans that can be used as working capital to cover operating expenses, including payroll, rent or mortgage, utilities and other everyday business expenses. Loans also can be used to pay off debt.

Arkansans interested in the program can join an information webinar at 3 p.m. Tuesday to learn more about the initiative.

Earlier this month, SBA raised the cap on the loans and borrowers now can apply for up to $2 million. The 30-year loans have fixed interest of 3.75% for businesses and 2.75% for nonprofits. Payments can be deferred over the first two years, though interest will be applied.

Collateral is required for loans of more than $25,000 and a personal guarantee is needed to borrow more than $250,000. The deadline to apply for a loan is Dec. 31 or sooner if funds are exhausted. For more information or to apply go to


Learn more about protecting your information technology infrastructure from cybersecurity attacks in a seminar at noon Friday that is available through the Little Rock Venture Center.

Cyber experts Chris Wright and Bob East of Sullivan Wright Technologies of Little Rock will lead the session.

The program will offer tips for entrepreneurs, business leaders and the investment community and is part of cybersecurity awareness month, which is a national effort to increase safety from online attacks.

IBM reports that the average cost to businesses of a single cybersecurity breach in 2020 was $3.86 million and the cost of business lost because of a data breach was $1.52 million.

More information on the session is available at


Three experts with a nationally recognized organization that promotes equity in the workplace will lead a half-day seminar Oct. 27 to help Arkansas business leaders set up diversity, equity and inclusion programs.

The in-person session, sponsored by the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas, will be held from 1-4 p.m. at the school's office at 702 SE Fifth St. in Bentonville.

Seminar leaders will offer insight on how to continue the momentum of a diversity, equity and inclusion program after its initial implementation.

The interactive session will use the Ideals Institute's people, processes and power framework, known as P3, to help leaders identify ways to embed diversity, equity and inclusion principles into ongoing practices and daily interactions with co-workers and key stakeholders.

The session costs $325 and is part of the university's executive education efforts. For more information or to register go to

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