LITTLE ROCK - I have just returned from my third trade mission to Asia, where Arkansas’ good reputation as a business-friendly state is well-known and growing.
Over seven days, we held 20 meetings in eight cities with more than 55 people, including U.S. diplomats, local government officials and representatives from more than 20 companies. We traveled more than 23,000 miles; and nearly 1,000 of those miles were by high-speed train.
A highlight of the trip was the official signing of the Memorandum of Understanding in China with Risever, which is opening its first plant outside of China right here in Arkansas in Jonesboro. Caterpillar is its largest American customer. Before the signing ceremony, we toured the plant and saw Risever employees welding the counterweights like the ones the company will manufacture in northeast Arkansas. This plant will be their first location in the United States. To get to Risever headquarters in Hefei, go to Shanghai, take a left, and three-hundred miles later, you arrive in the little community of eight million people. The company showed us great hospitality. The most moving moment for me was our arrival. As we exited the van, “God Bless America” was playing over the public address speakers, and they continued to play for much of our visit.
This trip also included a visit to Japan, which has been a significant partner with Arkansas since the 1980s. More than twenty Japanese companies already have a presence here. It is just as important that we nurture our long-standing relationships as it is to find new partners. But we’re always on the lookout for new companies, and at least twenty Japanese companies are interested in expanding to Arkansas. William Hagerty, the new U.S. ambassador to Japan, told me that the opportunity for us to recruit Japan investments has never been greater.
Japan is turning the corner after a decade of financial crisis, an earthquake, and the subsequent tsunami and the leak at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Japan’s recovery will present new opportunities for Arkansas.
In addition to our trade missions to Asia and Europe, we have offices in Berlin, China and Japan. And Mike Preston and his staff at the Arkansas Economic Development Commission consistently engage with business leaders. You can’t beat face-to-face visits for building trust and maintaining momentum.
Our economic development representative in Japan is a young Arkansan named Neal Jansen. Neal graduated from the math and science school in Hot Springs and then from the University of Arkansas. Neal was the one who organized our final meeting in Japan, which was an amazing accomplishment. Neal was the third speaker, and he delivered his 20-minute speech in Japanese. While he was speaking, I turned to a Japanese businessman who was seated next to me and I asked him how Neal was doing. The businessman told me: “He’s speaking perfect Japanese.”
I am so proud of people like Neal, who represent us so well abroad. I am grateful for the members of the great team from Arkansas and the opportunity to sell our home state to foreign investors. With this team, we have attracted billions of dollars in foreign investment and created hundreds of new jobs. We will continue to pursue the right kind of industry to grow Arkansas’ economy, so that Arkansas becomes an even more wonderful place to live.