Richard Hyde, the British consul general for the South Central United States, based in Houston, will visit virtually with multiple Northwest Arkansas stakeholders this week.
The virtual visit runs Wednesday through Friday (Dec. 2-4). All of the meetings will be held over Zoom.
Hyde represents the United Kingdom’s government in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. He heads an office that deals with a wide range of political, commercial, security and economic questions of interest to the United Kingdom and this region of the U.S. The office also provides consular assistance to British nationals in the South Central U.S.
The goals for the Northwest Arkansas visit are to meet a broad range of people, build support for a U.S./U.K. free trade agreement and look for opportunities for British companies to invest in Arkansas and vice versa. Hyde will also be exploring the potential for relationships among research institutions.
Hyde will have a discussion this week with University of Arkansas Chancellor Joe Steinmetz.
“We’re honored to be part of Consul General Hyde’s virtual visit to Northwest Arkansas,” Steinmetz said. “There are so many amazing and relevant activities and aspirations not only on our campus but throughout the region and state of Arkansas that present opportunities to partner and collaborate with the U.K. We hope this is the first of many productive conversations.”
He’s also scheduled to meet with representatives of Runway Group, a private but growing business team based in Bentonville led by Tom Walton and his older brother, Steuart Walton. They are grandsons of Walmart founder Sam Walton and sons of Jim Walton, chairman and CEO of Arvest Bank Group Inc.
“We are always excited to highlight the opportunities Northwest Arkansas has to offer and look forward to discussing the possibility for collaboration and partnership with the consul general,” Runway Group spokeswoman Krista Cupp said.
Hyde has additional meetings planned with World Trade Center Arkansas, J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc., Northwest Arkansas Council and the Greater Bentonville Area Chamber of Commerce.
“This isn’t a pitch, it’s a conversation,” said Graham Cobb, president and CEO of the Bentonville chamber. “One of the most valuable of Northwest Arkansas offerings is access. In this case, we want to demonstrate to leaders in the U.K. that they have access to us and, therefore, access to the regional business leaders that lead businesses impacting the world. The Northwest Arkansas chambers and the Northwest Arkansas Council are here to help and here to be a resource for U.K. businesses interested in having a presence in our region.”
“Consul General Hyde’s visit will help build important relationships and open doors to future opportunities for Northwest Arkansas,” said Nelson Peacock, president and CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Council. “Many of the region’s companies have already developed impressive international contacts, and this visit will help strengthen and expand those relationships. This meeting demonstrates how important Northwest Arkansas, its companies and the university are on the world stage.”
Hyde said he’s excited about the prospects of this week’s meetings, which he called “a hugely important” opportunity. A career diplomat, Hyde assumed the consul general role in Houston in June 2019 and was beginning to make visits throughout the region when the COVID-19 pandemic began.
He was due to visit Northwest Arkansas earlier this year.
“2020 has not been conducive to travel, so we’re making the most of it virtually,” he said. “There’s no way of replicating visiting a place and putting boots on the ground. You feel it differently and get a sense of what is going on. But this is a start. It’s a toe in the water. I hope by the end of the week, we will have a much deeper knowledge of the region and will have spotted specific opportunities.”
Hyde said the role of the consul general’s office is to open doors and allow business leaders from both sides (U.S. and United Kingdom) to walk through them.
“We’re having conversations, doing a bit of thinking and then going back in person and trying to engage more,” he said. “And definitely, we will be doing some public stuff when we do.”
Hyde spoke virtually with Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Nov. 20. They discussed the importance of a strong relationship between Arkansas and the United Kingdom and the benefits of being trading partners.
“We know that the governor is a real friend of the United Kingdom,” Hyde said. “He was very clear that he is a massive supporter of our work towards a free trade agreement.”