Denise Thomas has been named to lead the World Trade Center Arkansas, making her the first Black woman to become CEO of a World Trade Center in the United States.
The longtime trade director at the World Trade Center Arkansas replaces W. Dan Hendrix, who was the center's first president and CEO but retired in June.
Thomas said in a news release, "The center has helped enhance opportunities for bilateral trade with Arkansas businesses. I'm optimistic about the future role that the Natural State and the center will play on the global stage."
Hendrix, who worked with her for nearly 15 years, said in the release, "Denise is a 14-year veteran of the trade center and is well respected internationally as well as statewide. "She will bring enthusiasm and professionalism in her role as she continues international trade development for Arkansas companies and we resume our trade mission, trade show and commercial diplomacy activities that are crucial for Arkansas exports.”
Thomas, a California native, began her economic development career in 1998 in Florida at the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce. There, she worked with the U.S. Small Business Administration to create a networking hub for entrepreneurs.
Thomas was later appointed to oversee the Jacksonville chamber's division of diversity, equity and inclusion.
She moved to Arkansas in 2002 and joined Walmart as a senior recruiter. Thomas came to the World Trade Center Arkansas five years later and was one its first staff members.
U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Arkansas, who helped establish the center in 2007, said in the release, "She has been a leader in developing opportunities for Arkansas businesses in the global marketplace, and I look forward to continuing working together to support our businesses and enhance economic growth throughout the Natural State."
John Drew, chair of the World Trade Centers Association, added, "She's great at mentoring and she's educated a lot of our members about how to do this work and how to do it successfully. She's just a stalwart."
The center is part of the University of Arkansas Office of Economic Development and serves as the trade promotion arm for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.
Mike Preston, Arkansas secretary of commerce, said, "Over the past 14 years, she has demonstrated the highest levels of knowledge and experience that have allowed Arkansas to earn a reputation on the global stage as an incredible state for doing business. She is highly respected here at home and abroad, and I have every confidence that the World Trade Center Arkansas is in great hands."