Editor’s Note: “The Economic Development Side” originally appears in the Pine Bluff Regional Chamber of Commerce’s weekly member e-newsletter. It is written by Rhonda Dishner, the Economic Development Alliance’s executive assistant.
Once again local economic developers have been reminded of just how “small” the world has become. This time is was due to a trade mission aimed at connecting the Eastern European country of Belarus with Arkansas businesses “to increase bilateral trade and educational exchange.”
The World Trade Center-Arkansas at Rogers had invited Arkansas companies interested in doing business with Belarus to visit with members of that country’s trade delegation in a meeting at Rogers on May 2.
The 20-member visiting trade delegation included Oleg Kravchenko, deputy minister of foreign affairs for the Republic of Belarus; Aliaksandr Zabella, chairman of the Belarus State Food Industry Concern; Pavel Schidlovsky, Charge d’Affaires of the Embassy for Belarus in Washington, DC; Henadz Chorny, director general for the Mogilev Branch of Belarusian Chamber of Commerce and Industry; and several representatives from prominent Belarusian companies.
The Republic of Belarus shares borders with five countries, including Russia to the northeast, Poland to the west, Ukraine to the south, and Lithuania to the northwest. Minsk is the capital and largest city. It was part of the former Soviet Republic, and the official languages are Belarusian and Russian.
Among the 40 or so Arkansas participants at the conference was Caleb McMahon of the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County. He received an invitation to the meeting directly from the World Trade Center, which is considered a “global campus” of the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville. As a May 2013 Fayetteville law school graduate, McMahon was known to trade center staff because of his selection for a prestigious internship in China while still a student specializing in international law.
In addition to potential opportunities to promote Jefferson County to international diplomats and business leaders, McMahon had another reason to register for the event: he had visited Belarus for two weeks in March 2013 just before graduating law school. He was part of a first-ever group of U.S. law students to go into a Belarusian university to do course work and training in international negotiations. While the rest of his group flew directly into Minsk, McMahon reports that he first spent some personal time in Paris before entering Belarus by train through Lithuania. That was a fascinating trip, he says.
At the trade mission last week, McMahon was able to speak with several members of the Belarusian trade delegation, especially Kravchenko and Zabella. And conversations did include whether there could be potential for a future project in Jefferson County. There appeared to be preliminary interest, and McMahon was encouraged that a delegation member later made a point of asking for his contact information as he was leaving.
For a local economic developer, it was a drive to and from Northwest Arkansas that simultaneously “went” half way around the world in a single day.