LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Arkansas Money & Politics) – Times have changed, and in the years hence Hutchinson and team have skillfully leveraged the event, and others in Europe, to court international business to the Natural State.
“There’s two things that are important,” Hutchinson says. “One is general marketing of the state. The other part of the strategy is having one-on-one meetings, set up in advance, both to support our existing aero-defense companies in Arkansas that are at the air show and to have new contacts with potential firms and let them know what’s happening in Arkansas.
“We’re not only there showcasing Arkansas, but we’re also competing and letting people know this is a great place to do business and to live.”
Approaching the biennial air show – their third – the Arkansas delegation is well-schooled in the art of recruiting international companies. They also have a growing roster of French companies to point to, as well as a booming aero-defense industry to illustrate what the state has to offer in the physical and educational infrastructure to support growth.
“The maturity of our programs in Arkansas tell a great story in terms of our success and our long-term commitment to technology, education, as well as business development,” Hutchinson says. “For example, the first trip that I made to Europe to talk up Arkansas, I talked about our computer coding initiative, but it was basically ‘this is our mandate. This is what we’re doing,’ which they loved.
“But now when I go back, I talk about that we’ve had an increase in students from 1,000 to over 8,000 students taking computer coding. And we talk about the pipeline of start-up technology companies in our accelerator programs. There’s nothing that beats consistency in effort and approach and excellence in outcomes.”
According to information provided by the governor’s office, there are more than 240 aviation and defense companies in Arkansas, employing more than 10,000 people. Aircraft and aircraft parts were the state’s largest category of export with more than $996.6 million worth of goods in 2018. This accounted for 15.4 percent of Arkansas’ total exports, of which 30 percent went to France, the largest recipient among all nations. Overall, France ranks fourth among Arkansas’ international partners, accounting for $325.7 million dollars in trade last year.
Hutchinson says the success of peer firms, especially from a common nation of origin, is another powerful lure.