Today I am in the Czech Republic as I conclude a week of work in Europe selling Arkansas to international companies looking to expand in the United States.
On the first day of the trip at the Paris Air Show, I joined leaders of Lockheed Martin to announce that the company will invest $142 million in its Camden-area operations and add 326 jobs to its 650-employee workforce. This is a significant expansion that will be a boost to the economy in South Arkansas.
The investment also demonstrates the company’s confidence that Arkansas is the right place to grow its business. We have the technical workforce skills to build rockets necessary for defense of a nation. The plan also reflects the momentum we are seeing in our defense and aerospace industries.
Lockheed Martin’s announcement is the second in less than a year in the Highland Industrial Park. In April, Aerojet Rocketdyne broke ground on a $50 million expansion.
One of the values of attending the air show is that it gives us the opportunity to showcase Arkansas’s defense and aerospace industry on an international stage.
Another benefit is more basic. Business is based upon confidence. That is especially true in Europe and China, where I’ve traveled five times to sell Arkansas. Those are relationship-based cultures. It can take months – sometimes years – to court a business and close a deal. The best way to accomplish that is to meet in person.
When the governor of Arkansas and my economic development team, led by our new Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston, travel thousands of miles to meet in person with a CEO who is thinking of investing millions of dollars in the United States, the CEO develops a quick sense of confidence that Arkansas is a serious trading partner.
Our trip also included a visit to the Switzerland headquarters of ABB, which has a facility in Fort Smith. We ate lunch with some of their apprentices who will be working in Fort Smith this summer and learned more about their apprenticeship program.
We met with executives of Nestle, which has plants in Ft. Smith, Jonesboro, and Northwest Arkansas. We also visited with the leaders of CZ at its headquarters in Prague, Czech Republic. The many fans of CZ’s shotguns and rifles were elated when we announced in April that CZ will open its first U.S. manufacturing plant at the Port of Little Rock.
My trade missions have focused on many industries, but much of this trip was very specific to the aerospace and defense industry because that is our largest category of export, which amounts to over a billion dollars annually.
In 2018, that amounted to 15.4 percent of our total exports. France is the largest buyer of aircraft and aircraft parts, followed by Switzerland and the British Virgin Islands.
More than 240 aviation and defense companies are located in Arkansas. More than 10,000 work in aerospace and defense manufacturing.
Although we were here on the business of growing our economy, our success is often the result of personal connections. When we meet these international business leaders, they see that Arkansans are hard-working, creative, and dependable. It’s easy for them to see we will be a good friend as well as a great business partner.