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Global trade comes calling.

Little Rock Gains International Flavor

Finding evidence that the global economy has arrived on the Arkansas home front is becoming as easy as finding a Texas tourist vacationing here during the summer.

Chinese capitalists, Japanese retailers, Russian engineers, a German trade envoy, Dutch consultants and entrepreneurs all paid visits to the Little Rock area during a recent 10-day period.

"This is a normal situation," says Charles Sloan, director of the trade and international investments division of the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission. "There's a lot more international trade activity than people realize."

Foreign exports directly and indirectly accounted for $6 billion in Arkansas business during 1994, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. That represents a 15 percent chunk of the gross state product and an estimated 10 percent of all jobs in Arkansas.

The growth of global commerce has pushed the signs of international trade, often hidden behind corporate doors, into the public arena.

"The world keeps getting smaller," says Joe O'Brien, president of O'Brien International Services Inc. of Little Rock. "It's extremely exciting looking into the next century."

Several representatives of a venture with socialist roots in mainland China came to Arkansas in early May on a capitalistic reconnaissance mission.

The Cadalong International Capital Corp. group visited Arkansas financiers May 8-11. Cadalong is a subsidiary of Beijeng-based China National Aero Technology Import and Export Corp., the Chinese government's Department of Aviation.

Besides overseeing aviation, CATIC operates factories and acts as trading arm for industry and consumers. The total value of its import/export business tops $6 billion.

The visit by Cadalong officials presented a threefold mission. First, the group wanted to learn more about Arkansas sources of financing that might aid trade. Issuing corporate bonds and converting to a public corporation were two areas of prime discussion.

Secondly, the businessmen were interested to find out about investment opportunities in Arkansas. They expressed special interest in private placement possibilities in ventures with growth potential, especially manufacturing operations with export potential to China.

The final venue of discussion revolved around aviation. The group was particularly keen on producing aircraft that could pass muster by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Such FAA-certified aircraft would give the Chinese entry into the prime global markets of developed nations. The aviation industry in Little Rock and northwest Arkansas drew the group's added attention.
1994 Arkansas Export Breakdown

Manufactured goods $4.3 billion
Agriculture commoditiest $1.3 billion
Services 1 billion

The Cadalong group will return in about five weeks for more legwork on trade opportunities, says O'Brien, who coordinated the Arkansas visit.

"It was very, very positive, and they're going to be coming back," he says. "The only issue in setting a date is when their boss from Beijing will visit their office in Los Angeles."

O'Brien says the Cadalong group wanted to expand its exploration of U.S. commerce beyond the East Coast and West Coat. Overall, they see Arkansas as having a more hospitable business climate than California.

For the most part, Cadalong is carrying a mandate of "anything goes" socialist exposure to a variety of products.

"They're very wide open, and the discussion was very broad," says Steve Carleson, first vice president and manager at the Little Rock office of Merrill Lynch Inc.

A luncheon with the group served as a probing session for business opportunities that included commodity investments, small companies for sale, venture capital deals and real estate. "We're going to do some research and see if we can work with them on that," Carleson says.

The Chinese also expressed their desire to invest money in the Mid-South in talks with Stephens Inc. of Little Rock and Llama Co. of Fayetteville.

Land of the Rising Sun

Businessmen from another part of the Orient were in Little Rock for a three-day visit May 18-20. A 40-member Japanese delegation came to town as part of an ongoing relationship established by Naonobu Sasho, president of Odoya Co.

The firm operates 13 grocery stores, two bookstores, a variety store, a building material company and a real estate business. Sasho received honorary Arkansas citizen papers when he brought a group of Japanese businessmen to Little Rock in 1993. The token gesture so moved Sasho that a store near Tokyo was renamed "Little Rock."

Sasho visited Arkansas at the urging of a business associate - Masa Kasuga, owner of Arkansas' Excelsior Hotel in Little Rock. Kasuga is interested in developing business connections between the Japanese and Arkansans.

This dovetailed with Sasho's high regard for the business philosophies of the late Wal-Mart Stores Inc. founder, Sam Walton. The Odoya group of store managers and other business associates are scouting out Arkansas products to sell in their stores and paying calls to study area retailers like Wal-Mart and Sam's Club.

"There's a tremendous respect for Wal-Mart and the way they do business," says Linus Raines, general manager of the Excelsior, who is hosting and overseeing the Odoya visit.

The Odoya group plans to make annual trade trips to Arkansas in an effort to reinforce the ties between the company and Little Rock. It's one of more than 70 foreign business groups the Excelsior has played host to in the past two years.

Russians, Germans & Dutch

A reception was held May 16 for a group of Russian engineers training with U-Liner Mid-America Inc. in Alexander. The group is undergoing training with company officials and will leave for the Russian Far East on June 6.

The technology exchange program will help rebuild water and wastewater treatment facilities in Russia. The project is envisioned as leading to more trade opportunities involving services and equipment.

Another recent foreign trade visitor was Fritz Reuter, director for the Bremen World Trade Center and the North America office of Bremen Business International.

BBI is the international economic development and trade promotion arm of the German state of Bremen. Reuter was in Arkansas to promote the use of Bremen's distribution and port facilities, the second largest in Deutschland.

Reuter was making the rounds in Little Rock on May 11-13 with Thomas Lutz, executive director of the Mid-South International Trade Association.

A trade delegation from the Netherlands was in Arkansas exploring mutually beneficial trade opportunities for poultry and other agri products.

The list of foreign businessmen making trade connections in Arkansas keeps growing while the globe they trot around seems to be shrinking.
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Title Annotation:includes related article; Little Rock, AR
Author:Waldon, George
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:May 22, 1995
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