Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, the first governor from any state to visit Cuba after the newly established U.S. Embassy, led a delegation consisting of 19 Arkansas businesses, representing 17 commercial and agriculture sectors, and higher education.
Don Bobbitt, president of the University of Arkansas System, and Mark Cochran, vice president of the Division of Agriculture, represented the University of Arkansas. Others included in the governor’s official delegation included:
Chief of Staff Michael Lamoureux
President Pro Tem and Senator Jonathan Dismang
Arkansas State Senator David Sanders
Arkansas Secretary of Agriculture Wes Ward
Executive Director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission Mike Preston.
The trade mission, organized by the World Trade Center Arkansas, began with a business forum hosted by the Chamber of Commerce of the Republic of Cuba on Sept. 28. Government officials and ministers welcomed the delegation and an Agreement of Cooperation was signed between the World Trade Center Arkansas and the Cuban Chamber. The rest of the day was filled with business-to-business meetings. Multiple agendas allowed for more interests to be explored and more business to be discussed.
Two World Trade Center interns from the Sam M. Walton College of Business – Hannah Pinter and Bret Bowen — helped organize the trade mission and accompanied the delegation on the trip. Pinter also helped with translation.
A visit to the residence of U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis was a highlight of the trip where other foreign diplomats attended and welcomed the Arkansas delegation. In the following days, many meetings took place with various departments and ministries of government so that our companies could learn the opportunities and challenges to be considered regarding future endeavors with Cuba.
The group toured the Especial Economic Zone of the Port of Mariel, a deep-water port on the Atlantic. The tour provided onsite viewing of Cuba’s current construction for expansion and increased cargo movement. This included four high-speed container cranes, a huge container yard, a new temperature controlled warehouse, a dry storage warehouse and a new general office building.
The delegates learned much about the culture, politics and logistics that influence the business climate. Follow up from the meetings and contacts affirmed that business relationships were developed and that the trip was an overall success for all who participated. The World Trade Center Arkansas has been encouraged to begin planning for a return trip in April 2016.