Arkansas Economic Development Commission Director Grant Tennille says that Arkansas could be a pivotal base for French companies springboarding into Asian and South American markets.
Tennille accompanied Gov. Mike Beebe on a trade mission to France two weeks ago to meet with French government leaders, business executives and research scientists.
“The French companies that do business in Arkansas right now are healthy, are optimistic about the future, and I think within the next year or so we’re likely to see some expansions,” Tennille said in a Talk Business interview.
He said there may be “tremendous” opportunities for Arkansas agri-researchers to collaborate with French counterparts. In particular, Tennille said interest exists in the nanotechnology research surrounding food safety and crop productivity being conducted at several university campuses as well as the National Center for Toxicological Research near Pine Bluff.
The one-week trade mission is likely to result in a summit early next year in Arkansas.
“We will continue to work with the French Senate on the meeting that they would like to hold in Arkansas sometime in the first quarter of 2013 to discuss opportunities for collaboration with the French government, the Arkansas government and Arkansas-based French companies with respect to increased trade with China,” said Tennille.
Five French companies with a major presence in Arkansas include:
• Dassault Falcon Jet – manufacturer and finisher of high-end luxury jets;
• Saint Gobain Industries – manufacturer of ceramic proppants, which are sand-sized spherical beads used in oil and gas fracking;
• Saint Jean Industries – manufacturer of aluminum products for automotive industry;
• Pernod Ricard – premium spirits, liqueurs and wine producer; and,
• Zodiac Aerospace – manufacturer of fuel cells for aerospace, military and commercial transport industries.
Tennille said the French firms see export possibilities from Arkansas to South America and Asia — China, in particular, where Gov. Beebe visited earlier this year on a lengthier trade mission.
The financial concerns gripping Europe in large part due to government debt and recession factors are unlikely to stall efforts from the trip, Tennille said.
“I think the French companies we spoke with were obviously cautious in the face of continued instability in the Eurozone,” he said. “However, the growing economies of Asia and South America represent opportunities for those companies. They see Arkansas and their holdings in Arkansas playing a large part in their pursuit of those markets.”