Chad Causey would like to visit Paris.
He could have gone this year to the Paris Air Show with a traveling party led by Gov. Asa Hutchinson and members of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, the Arkansas World Trade Center and various industry leaders. Causey, the executive director of the Arkansas Aerospace & Defense Alliance, said it was the state’s “first real significant presence” at the air show.
The air show, held every two years, was held June 15 through June 21. The 2013 air show attracted more than 2,200 exhibitors from 45 countries and brought in nearly 140,000 industry visitors.
Arkansas’ aerospace industry is one of the state’s strongest with $1.8 billion in goods exported annually and with 180 companies employing nearly 10,000 people statewide. One of the alliance’s goals is to better advertise the strength and potential of the industry and that means going to places like Paris.
“Paris is part of that plan,” said Causey, who is one of this week’s 40 Under 40. “It’s our No. 1 export to the world. If it is, let’s go to the world. Going to Paris is an investment in further growth of Arkansas aerospace and defense.”
Last year, Gov. Mike Beebe and other officials with the AEDC and individual companies went to the Farnborough International Air Show that is held outside of London.
“That was our first toe in the water,” Causey said. “That went very well. Our alliance companies found a lot of value in that air show.”
Causey said putting Arkansas aerospace on display at a trade show doesn’t mean there will be instant benefits. More than 3 exhibitors from the United States were scheduled to appear in Paris, and Causey said a handful of Arkansas companies were among them.
Causey said the alliance did compile a directory — the first of its kind — of Arkansas’ aerospace companies and gave it to AEDC officials who traveled to Paris.
Gina Radke, the vice chairman of the Aerospace & Defense Alliance and also a 40 Under 40 honoree, went to Paris as well. Radke is the co-founder and CEO of Galley Support Innovations Inc. of Sherwood, a company that does a variety of interior work on airplanes.
“We are taking all these companies and introducing them to potential buyers from all over the world,” Causey said. “You can’t get noticed if you don’t raise your hands. We’re raising our hands.
“You never know when a major company is looking to expand. We want them to know we’re a great state to do business in.”
Before he left for Europe, Hutchinson said the trip was a “marketing” opportunity that would include him visiting a trade show in Germany.
“We have a great story to tell,” Hutchinson said. “This is a great opportunity for me to introduce myself as governor and show what a great opportunity Arkansas is for expansion and new companies. This trip is about great connections and great investment in Arkansas.”
Hutchinson, who cited Beebe’s previous trips to Europe as laying the economic development foundation, said Arkansas hopes to showcase the aerospace industry, among others, during the Europe trip, which was scheduled to last from June 13-19. Twelve French businesses employ 4,300 workers in Arkansas.
“We hope to make some money on these trips in the next few years,” Hutchinson said. “There are a lot of surprises [European companies] don’t know about Arkansas. We’ll showcase the industries they are aware of but wouldn’t necessarily connect to Arkansas.”
Causey was chief of staff to former U.S. Rep. Marion Berry and ran as a Democrat for Congress in 2010. He said it was telling that Hutchinson’s first foreign trip was to benefit the aerospace industry.
“To do that at the global high point of aerospace is a wonderful thing,” Causey said. “It is a great benefit to our state. He quickly engaged us on the importance of the aerospace industry. He has been very proactive and responsive to our efforts. His leading the delegation brings a higher level of legitimacy. It says we’re here from the top down for the aerospace industry.”
A few months ago, Causey said Arkansas too often keeps some “well-kept secrets” as far as business goes. The aerospace industry doesn’t want to be secretive anymore.
Causey said just recently the Legislature formed an aerospace caucus, which brought together members of various political persuasions from cities and towns across the state.
“It’s an issue and industry that has broad support,” he said. “It transcends politics. It’s an industry that is vital to the success and growth of Arkansas.”
(Mark Carter contributed to this column.)