Gov. Hutchinson highlights Arkansas defense sector amid terror alerts in Europe

by Wesley Brown ( 131 views 

Amid two terrorist incidents in European cities this week, Gov. Asa Hutchinson told reporters Wednesday that his weeklong trade mission in France, Germany and Israel has allowed Arkansas officials to highlight the state’s growing expertise in defense and homeland security.

Speaking via Facetime video conferencing from Frankfurt, Germany, Hutchinson said the first-leg of the trip with Arkansas Economic Development Commission staff to the Paris Air Show focused on meetings with major companies in the aerospace and defense sector.

“It has been a very successful trip thus far in terms of marketing Arkansas,” Hutchinson said on the Arkansas trade delegation’s three-day outing to France. “It started out at the air show in France, and I want to emphasize the theme that came out of there and that is the opportunities for Arkansas in the defense industry.”

Hutchinson said the increasing importance of homeland and other security issues was brought to everyone’s attention at the Paris Air Show because of high security threat levels due to a motorist ramming into a police convoy on the Champs-Elysees and a bomber at the main train station in nearby Brussels.

“Clearly, there is awareness that we are going to be investing more money both as a nation … as well as our allies in defense,” Hutchinson said. “And this is an opportunity for Arkansas with Lockheed Martin down in Camden and Raytheon and Aerojet Rocketdyne – some of our key defense contractors that we are able to support here and as well as those in the aerospace industry.”

Although he did not specifically mention it, Lockheed Martin made a big splash at the international air show with the announcement that it plans to boost production of its F-35 stealth fighter jet in Fort Worth, Texas, as part of a $40 billion deal to supply 440 of the stealth fighter jets to 11 U.S. allies. The largest U.S. defense contractor, which manufactures military munitions at its industrial facility in Camden, also announced plans to build the F-16 jet in India if it wins a big order of planes from that country.

After leaving France on Tuesday, Hutchinson said he, AEDC Director Mike Preston and other state economic development officials held meetings today in Cologne and Frankfurt, Germany, to allay growing concerns about U.S. trade policy under President Donald Trump.

“There have been some concerns expressed in Europe about the United States commitment to global trade and whenever we are telling them what we are doing in Arkansas – both by the fact that we are leading in the growth of foreign-direct investment plus what specific companies in Arkansas have invested in Arkansas – it is quite impressive to the European audience,” the governor said.

Later, in elaborating on the Trump administration’s distinct shift from the traditional free trade approach of past administrations to his current “America First” approach, Hutchinson said that has sent a signal to trade partners in Europe that “could have been mistaken in its intent.”

“The intent (of the Trump administration) is that we are going to bring manufacturing back to our country and we don’t want to neglect that and hand it over to our neighbors,” Hutchinson said. “Some of our Europeans friends think that is a withdrawal from the global stage and I assured them that is far from the case.”

Hutchinson and AEDC officials have also met with executives from Cologne-based chemical giant Lanxess, which operates one of the world’s largest bromine manufacturing facilities in south Arkansas.

In September 2016, Philadelphia chemical manufacturer Chemtura Corp. announced a deal to be acquired by Lanxess in an all-cash deal valued at $2.5 billion. From its base of operations in El Dorado, Chemtura’s Great Lakes Solutions has some 500 employees working at three bromine manufacturing plants and is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of flame-retardant products and bromine derivatives.

Hutchinson said he reassured Lanxess officials and other executives in the financial services industry whom he met with in Germany that the U.S. will continue to be the leading proponent of free trade despite possible mixed messages from the Trump administration.

“Europe has also looked to the United States as the world leader in the economy, in terms of trade and defense – so they are very careful to the nuances of our dialogue and anything that indicates a retreat from that causes them concern,” he said. “My message – I think – has really been timely for them and reassures them.”

Hutchinson and the Arkansas trade delegation will end the European trade mission with a two-day jaunt to Israel before returning to the U.S. this weekend. Although no Israeli companies have operations in the state, Hutchinson and Preston said they plan to seek new relationships with companies in that country’s technology and defense sectors.

Unlike past overseas trade trips, Hutchinson said the AEDC team has not inked any deals for any European companies to locate and expand operations in Arkansas.