Gov. Hutchinson, AEDC Chief Mike Preston to make second trade trip to China

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 277 views 

Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC) Director Mike Preston will make their second trade visit to China in 2016 when they head back to the Far East country next month, Talk Business & Politics has learned.

Preston said Friday (Sept. 9) the governor and top AEDC staff will meet with officials from Chinese timber and paper products giant Sun Paper and cultivate “active” Far East prospects considering locating to Arkansas. The trip is set for Oct. 15-21.

In late April, Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed a memorandum of understanding with Sun Paper Chairman and Founder Hongxin Li to bring the Chinese conglomerate to south Arkansas to invest more than $1 billion to build a paper manufacturing facility creating 250 new jobs at an annual average salary of $52,000. However, the company said in July the construction start has been moved from the first quarter of 2017 to the third quarter.

AEDC international team from Europe and Asia met with economic developers from more than 40 Arkansas communities this week to discuss how local businesses might find new international markets, and how cities and towns in the state could possibly attract out-of-country businesses to locate here.

Lindsay Liu, director of Arkansas’ China office in Shanghai, has cultivated a number of prospects in China that the governor and AEDC officials plan to meet with during the trip, Preston said.

“The governor and I are getting ready to go back to China next month and there are several companies in which Lindsay has worked with over the course of the last year since the deal with Sun Paper that now have an interest in Arkansas,” Preston said.

Although Preston would not provide any names of possible Chinese business prospects, he did say state economic development officials are far along in the process of negotiating with several companies.

“Are they in the pipeline? Yes, they are,” Preston said.

UPDATED INFO: Preston said the leg work done to complete the Sun Paper deal, which has been more than two years in the making, has brought Arkansas to the attention of other Chinese companies and Far East business prospects.

“I don’t want to put the cart before the horse, but we’ve done a lot of work and have a lot of good positive momentum and PR out of China after the Sun Paper announcement. A lot of companies have been interested, and hopefully some of those can come to fruition,” Preston said.

Besides Liu, Neal Jansen, head of the AEDC’s Japan office, and Cornelius Schnitzler, the recently hired director of the state’s European bureau, were in Arkansas this week to visit with economic developers from across the state.

“These three have been touring the state over the last week and have heard presentations from many communities, ranging from our largest-to-smallest,” AEDC spokesman Scott Hardin.

Preston and Danny Games, AEDC’s executive vice president of global business, said the expertise and contacts the three international directors have in Europe and Asia will bear fruit in bringing more overseas jobs to the state of Arkansas in the future.

Earlier this summer following the 2016 fiscal session, Gov. Hutchinson took his first trade trip of 2016 when he led a state delegation to Farnborough International Airshow in England. That weeklong international trade show from July 11-17 in Hampshire, England combined a major trade exhibition for the aerospace and defense industries with a public airshow.

In April, Games and AEDC staff participated at the international Hannover Messe trade show in Germany, where President Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel headlined the world’s largest industrial technology trade fair. Lenka Horakova, AEDC’s director of business development for Europe, and Ben France, senior project manager for business development, were also part of that three-person trade delegation.

The trip to China will be Hutchinson’s fifth international trip in his tenure as governor. In 2015, Hutchinson made trade visits to Cuba, Europe, and the Far East, where he has been able to lay the ground for the Sun Paper and other smaller deals.