(Left to Right) Larry Walther, board of directors, U.S. Export-Import Bank, Sue McGowan, director of economic development/CEO, Paragould Regional Chamber of Commerce, Congressman Rick Crawford, Jay Allen, President and CEO of Allen Engineering
Yesterday, on the campus of Arkansas State University, I hosted a gathering of policy experts and business leaders to explore new opportunities for exporting Arkansas goods. The First Congressional District Export Leadership Roundtable was something my office initiated to keep Arkansas businesses and farms ahead of the curve and take maximum advantage of trade opportunities. With 95% of the world’s consumers living outside of the United States, we would be wise to look abroad to expand businesses, hire new workers and grow the American economy.
In October of 2011, new Free Trade Agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia were ratified. When combined, these three Free Trade Agreements have the potential to open up $2.5 billion in new export opportunity for American companies. With such tremendous prospects for growth, the export roundtable yesterday can be the catalyst for what I hope will be infinite growth for local businesses.
The Small Business Administration estimates less than one percent of America’s 30 million companies export – a percentage that is significantly lower than all other developed countries. Of U.S. companies that do export, 58 percent export to only one country. Now is the time for Arkansas businesses to seize the opportunity and substantially grow our state’s companies by providing goods to hungry new markets overseas.
During the roundtable discussion over 80 business and agriculture leaders gained valuable insight into the export markets. Larry Walther, a new appointee to the 5-member U.S. Export-Import Board of Directors and Patricia Gonzalez from the U.S. Export Assistance Center shared information that the business community needs to know in order to be successful exporting goods to the new markets. We also heard from people right here in our First Congressional District who already are seeing their businesses grow into new markets through exports.
Our economy is beginning to show signs of growth. The Free Trade Agreements ratified late last year have the great potential to bolster Arkansas’s economy. Exporting our goods provides a direct flow of capital back into our rural communities and is a critical source of income to revitalize small-town economies. The Free Trade Agreements with Korea, Columbia and Panama will be vital to for renewing our economy and creating American jobs – particularly in rural areas. Yesterday’s export roundtable was the first step towards helping our local businesses grow into new markets overseas. I am hopeful that these new markets will create jobs in Arkansas and put people to work.