State Department Program Allows Army of Ambassadors to Experience Arkansas

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

Here too, business was on the agenda, with presentations by two of the state’s most important companies: Wal-Mart, the planet’s largest retailer, and Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale, one of the world’s largest processors and marketers of chicken, beef and pork.

“Our rate of growth exceeds all other metropolitan areas in the Midwest,” said Mike Malone, president and CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Council. “We’re adding 31 residents to this corner of Arkansas every day. More than a quarter of a million people have moved here in the last 20 years. They come and stay, and they love it.”

The state’s most famous corporate name is, of course, Wal-Mart, which began in 1962 with just one store in the town of Rogers, about 20 miles north of Fayetteville.

Last year, Sam’s Club alone posted sales of $49 billion — more than the annual GDP of 19 countries represented by the ambassadors listening to CEO Brewer’s speech — and its stores cover a combined 81 million SF, which is three times the size of Monaco. Its parent company, Wal-Mart, with well over 2 million employees and fiscal 2012 revenue of almost $444 billion, would rank as the world’s 26th-largest economy — smack between Argentina and Austria — if it were a country of its own.

“Many of you here today represent countries that Wal-Mart sources from, and it’s a long list that includes Thailand (tables, jewelry and TVs); Egypt (rugs and shirts); Germany (wines) and Cambodia (gloves and dresses),” said Brewer. “One of our goals is to be a good global citizen, and 70 percent of impoverished people are women. Wal-Mart has the size and scale to help, by empowering women across our supply chain. So over the next five years, we will source $20 billion from women-owned suppliers in the U.S. and double our sourcing from women-owned suppliers internationally.”

Like Brewer, Donnie Smith, CEO of Tyson Foods, looked out at the roomful of ambassadors and saw potential new sales to a multitude of countries.

Smith rattled off statistics: Tyson, with 115,000 employees and $33 billion in annual revenue, is the nation’s second-largest tortilla maker and the largest manufacturer of pizza toppings, though beef represents 40 percent of company sales, chicken 35 percent and pork 15 percent.

“Over time, chicken will continue to grow in per-capita consumption. Today, we’re in countries where we see an emerging middle class and a good supply of feed grains,” he said. “Latin America is a huge growth opportunity for us, but we’re also in India, where per-capita chicken consumption is only 5 pounds a year. We have three operations in China — the only place where we have company-owned farms.”

All that farm talk resonated with Moroccan Ambassador Mohamed Rachad Bouhlal, who three months earlier visited Wyoming as part of Experience America.

“Arkansas is an agricultural state, and agriculture is very important for Morocco. We are a big exporter of processed foods and livestock,” said Bouhlal, recalling with fondness President Clinton’s 1999 visit to Morocco to attend the funeral of King Hassan II, as well as King Mohammed VI’s reciprocal visit to the United States a year later. “There’s a lot we can learn from each other, and I’m sure possibilities for partnerships exist.” 

(Larry Luxner, a freelance writer based in Maryland, is news editor of The Washington Diplomat and editor of CubaNews.)



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