State Department Program Allows Army of Ambassadors to Experience Arkansas

by Larry Luxner  on Monday, Dec. 10, 2012 12:00 am  

It also helped that in a recent State Department survey asking Washington-based ambassadors where they wanted to go next, three states — Alaska, Arkansas and New Mexico — came out on top.

“Our focus on the Experience America trips is not only to showcase the beauty of our great nation, and the diversity of culture and tradition, but also to create business relationships with people from all backgrounds,” Marshall said. “For example, when we went to Los Angeles, the ambassadors attended a wonderful luncheon hosted by Warner Bros. They were quite frank about how a country can prepare a package to invite a studio to go on location and film in their country. Later, the ambassador of Gabon signed a deal with them; it all came about from that luncheon.”

With dollar signs in mind, local business leaders feted the ambassadors as if they were celebrities at not one but two lavish events. The first was a lengthy Governor’s Business Roundtable Breakfast at the Little Rock Club on the 30th floor of the Regions Bank Building, then the following day at the University of Arkansas’ sprawling campus in Fayetteville.

“Even through the worst recession in my lifetime, our business leaders have persevered, maintained and have been able to expand,” Beebe said over breakfast, noting that Arkansas has gained 27,000 jobs since the economy hit bottom in 2009.

“We care deeply about your economic viability for very selfish reasons,” he told the diplomats. “When we do poorly, the rest of the states do poorly, and when the states do poorly, the globe does poorly. So it’s important for us to get together and talk about economic strategy. It’s our job to tout who we are and what we have available. And what we have available is an ever-increasing advanced workforce.”

Beebe, who’s led trade missions to China, France, Germany, Great Britain and Cuba, said Arkansas has been relatively successful in attracting investment from Western Europe and Asia, “though we’d like to have a few more companies from the Caribbean, Latin America and the Middle East.”

Arkansas would also like to sell more to the world.

To that end, Paul Rivera, general manager of the Caterpillar factory in North Little Rock, said his Peoria, Ill., company — the world’s largest name in mining and construction equipment — spent $148 million to build its world-class facility in Arkansas three years ago. The factory now employs about 600 people.

“We produce things every country needs,” Rivera said, noting that 45 percent of his factory’s output is shipped outside the United States. And in response to a question from Botswana’s ambassador, Tebelelo Mazile Seretse, he added: “Africa is a huge growth market for Caterpillar, served primarily from our European and Brazilian markets, but we’d like to produce machines — especially for mining and road construction — closer to the point of use.”

Eric Fox, plant manager for global cosmetics giant L’Oreal, told diplomats his 900,000-SF factory in North Little Rock produces 300 million units of Lancôme and Maybelline mascara, eye shadow, face powder, nail enamel and lipstick every year.

“This is the largest cosmetics plant in the world for L’Oreal,” said Fox, who manages 800 employees. “We’re now opening factories in Russia, Brazil, Egypt and Indonesia. Western Europe and the U.S. are fairly mature markets, so there’s little room for growth, but the global middle class will grow from 1 billion today to 2.7 billion by 2050, and these people are going to need quality beauty products.”

In Fayetteville, the ambassadors were welcomed to the University of Arkansas by Razorbacks cheerleaders, backed up by the school’s marching band. They also learned how to “call the hogs” and posed for photos under a statue of Sen. J. William Fulbright.



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