J. Edwin Webb, president and CEO of the World Trade Center Kentucky, said that if the trade embargo is lifted between the United States and Cuba, it could reap dividends for the state of Kentucky and the 11 million Cubans who suddenly would have access to U.S. products and services.
For example, Webb noted that the overwhelming majority of Cuba’s food is imported, a factor Kentucky could take advantage of as a state heavy on agriculture.
Beyond the resources to aid Cuba, Webb said, Kentucky has the infrastructure in place through Worldport, the United Parcel Service Inc. air hub at Louisville International Airport, to easily transport goods to Cuba.
“It could be unlimited for us,” Webb said during an interview with Louisville Business First.
As of now, that trade embargo on Cuba remains in place. But the reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Cuba for the first time in 54 years is evidence that relations are improving between the two nations, which have had a contentious history.
As we reported Monday, World Trade Center Kentucky, is co-sponsoring an exploratory mission trip to Cuba Oct. 20-24 with Louisville-based Blue Equity LLC. The goal is to have business relationships in place should the trade embargo on Cuba lift.
The trade center works to accelerate international trade and economic development through innovation, education, trade advisory services and business trade missions.
Webb said it is critical for Kentucky to get on Cuba’s radar early because several other states already are making overtures into the country. And many companies with international reach already have a presence in the country. For example, companies such as JetBlue Airways Corp.(NASDAQ: JBLU), Netflix(NASDAQ: NFLX) and Airbnb Inc. have extended their services into Cuba.
“We don’t want to be late to the dance,” Zachary Scott, board chairman of World Trade Center Kentucky, told Louisville Business First.
For the U.S. business world, Webb and Scott see great value in Cuba as its population has limited access to the types of products and services that U.S. citizens take for granted. Scott said renewed trade with Cuba could lift boats economically for the United States but also improve the way of life for Cubans.
And with other countries trading with Cuba, Webb said some impatience is directed toward Washington as businesses wonder what is taking so long.
“We know Europe and Canada are already there doing business,” Scott said.
Scott said World Trade Center Kentucky and Blue Equity have lined up several companies to join them on the trip, including Papa John’s International Inc. (NASDAQ: PZZA), R.J. Corman Railroad Group LLC, East Kentucky Power Cooperative and Louisville Forward, Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government’s economic development department.
Scott said trade center officials have been flooded with more requests to participate by area businesses, showing the interest and value of tapping into Cuba.
For Scott, a potential business partnership between Kentucky and bourbon could be as satisfying as pairing a fine bourbon with an upscale Cuban cigar. “Those things go pretty well together.”
By Marty Finley, Louisville Business First
August 19, 2015