About AEDC | Find Properties | Contact Business Development

Welcome to the Arkansas Inc. Podcast

We discuss the latest topics and trends in economic development with subject matter experts and influencers from across the nation and around the world.

The Arkansas Inc. Podcast is available on AnchorApple Podcast, SpotifyStitcher, BreakerOvercast, and Radio Public. If you would like to listen on a mobile device, download the app for your preferred listening platform. Search for "Arkansas Inc." or click one of the links above from your device. From there, you will find our podcast page and be able to access episodes. 

Don't forget to subscribe to be notified when we publish a new episode.

Arkansas Inc. Podcast: Marketing Arkansas Around the World

 February 17, 2022

In this episode of the Arkansas Inc. Podcast, AEDC International Business Development Manager Ben Walters, Asia Office Director Neal Jansen, and Europe Office Director Dr. Cornelius Schnitzler discuss international economic development and marketing Arkansas to executives around the world.

WHERE TO LISTEN

The Arkansas Inc. Podcast is available on the following platforms:

Apple Podcasts Logo Breaker Logo Google Podcasts Logo Overcast Logo RadioPublic Logo Spotify Logo Stitcher Logo 

TRANSCRIPT

Ben Walters:

Hi. This is Ben Walters, International business development manager, for the Arkansas Economic Development commission.

Neal Jansen:

This is Neal Jansen, director of the AEDC's Asia office.

Cornelius Schnitzler:

This is Cornelius Schnitzler, the director of AEDC's Europe office and you're listening to the Arkansas Inc. Podcast.

Narrator:                         

Welcome to the Arkansas Inc. Podcast where we discuss the latest topics and trends in economic development with subject matter experts and influencers from across the nation and around the world.

Clark Cogbill:                   

Welcome to the Arkansas Inc. Podcast this is Clark Cogbill. I serve as director of marketing for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. We're recording today's podcast, as we always do, from Lucky Dog Audio in downtown Little Rock. International business is thriving in Arkansas. Close to 200 foreign owned firms with hundreds of locations across the state employ about 36,000 Arkansans. From timber companies to manufacturing businesses to the aerospace industry, there's a significant international presence in Arkansas. Arkansas has plenty to offer including a low cost of doing business, in-fact the fourth lowest in the United States, competitive taxes and a strong and talented work force. Not to mention Arkansas is a great place to call home with beautiful outdoor amenities and a low cost of living. But putting Arkansas on the radar screen of international companies takes a lot of time and effort by a dedicated team with experience fostering relationships with contacts across the globe. To give you some behind the scenes insights into Arkansas international business development strategies, today I'm going to be talking with the folks whose job it is to travel the globe, navigate a wide range of cultures, and communicate in multiple languages. I'm talking about the Arkansas Development Commission's international business development team.

Joining us from Osaka, Japan, Neal Jansen AEDC's Asia office director. From Washington D.C. today, Dr. Cornelius Schnitzler, AEDC's Europe office director and here in the studio with me is Ben Walters, AEDC's international business development manager. Neal, Cornelius and Ben, welcome to the Arkansas Inc. podcast.

Neal Jansen:                   

Great to be here, thank you.

Ben Walters:                   

Thank you. It’s great to be here.

Cornelius Schnitzler:      

Thank you for the invite.

Clark Cogbill:                   

First question goes to Ben Walters. Ben, if you would, give us an overview of what AEDC international business development team does.

Ben Walters:                   

Clark, thank you. It's a pleasure to join you on the Arkansas Inc Podcast today. The role of the AEDC international business development team is to assist international companies make the right investment decisions. We ensure that locating in Arkansas strengthens the companies' competitiveness around the world while simultaneously enhancing Arkansas economy. Our activities and tools include: identifying buildings and site locations to meet company needs, engaging community leaders across the state, providing infrastructure assistance, guidance on performance based incentives, permitting assistance and utility guidance. Overall we aim to provide a single point of contact for our international partners.

Clark Cogbill:                   

Well, that's a lot and your territory is all over the world?

Ben Walters:                   

That's correct.

Clark Cogbill:                   

Also, Ben, a follow up question. Give us an overview of what kind of impact international companies have on the state of Arkansas.

Ben Walters:                   

International companies are an integral part of Arkansas economy. Arkansas has approximately 200 international companies with hundreds of locations across the state and employ over 36,000 Arkansas every day.

Clark Cogbill:                   

So, obviously that's a big impact on the economy of the state. Now a question for everybody, how did you become involved with economic development for the state of Arkansas? What's your origin story? I'll start with Cornelius.

Cornelius Schnitzler:      

Thanks so much for having me today, Clark. Before joining AEDC, I worked on business feasibility studies for international investment projects and obviously in that line of work, you meet quite a few international law firms and consultancies. You spend a lot of time with them and during business dinners, there's a few of these law firms that actually have offices in the southeast share their experience working in economic development projects in collaboration with state EDOs. So obviously you spend a lot of time with these law firms working these projects and I was in contact with law firms that have offices in the southeast. These lawyers actually shared their experience working on economic development projects in collaboration with state EDOs. So, being pretty familiar with the U.S., having studied at UCLA and having relatives in California, Arizona, and Montana, I thought it would be an exciting opportunity to work for U.S. aid for a pro-business governor and obviously pro-business secretary of commerce. The timing was right, I interviewed for a job in Berlin, Germany and had a great on-boarding experience thanks to all my colleagues at AEDC and specifically Danny Games and Bentley Story.

Clark Cogbill:                   

Well, we're certainly glad you're part of the team. Neil, how about you? How did you get started and what led you to the State of Arkansas?

Neal Jansen:                   

Well, I'm originally from Arkansas and I moved to Japan after graduating from the U of A. I also did a year studying international business and economics in Osaka and then I took a role in strategy and operations with Walmart International not long after they had acquired a Japanese retailer. Then, back in 2010, a representative from the AEDC named Mark Haber visited the head office in Tokyo, we got acquainted and I transitioned to my role at AEDC about a year after that.

Clark Cogbill:                   

How long have you lived in Japan, Neal?

Neal Jansen:                   

This year makes 16 years total.

Clark Cogbill:                   

Wow, and Ben how about you?

Ben Walters:                   

Thanks, Clark. Throughout my life I have traveled the world and ended up taking international positions living in multiple hemispheres around the world. After spending a little over 10 years abroad, I was back to visit here in America and some of us who were originally from Arkansas were looking at ways to contribute to the State of Arkansas. After looking into some different opportunities, I eventually ended up meeting the good people at the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and was pretty excited about the opportunity to make a tangible contribution to strengthen the economy and just as importantly the perception of Arkansas internationally.

Clark Cogbill:                   

So, here's a follow up question for each one of you. What does it take to be a good international developer? How about you, Neal?

Neal Jansen:                   

Well, having a strong interest in global economics, business and politics and the flexibility to adjust to different cultural environments are all really important, I'd say, while also keeping close track of any big shifts in the business climate back home at Arkansas. Of course, foreign language skills are important too because of the nuance in spoken language and that even transitions into body language also. You even have different technical jargon and even units of measurement that are unique to certain countries. So, all in all, I would say those are some of the top ones.

Clark Cogbill:                   

Cornelius, anything to add to that?

Cornelius Schnitzler:      

Neal almost said it all. I think a background in economics, business, poli-sci, a master's degree, being fluent in at least two languages I think helps a lot. Being able to work independently, the ability to deliver exceptional results in a very dynamic environment would help you a lot. Strong interpersonal skills, analogical skills, being a team player. If, you served in the military or if you enjoy playing in team sports, you understand how critical preparations, details, strategy and teamwork is to deliver exceptional service, in our case to businesses and Arkansans. Obviously having U.S. work experience, possibly spend sometime at a U.S. college, helps a lot. In the case of Europe the transatlantic relationship, being familiar with the topics, specifically trade within say the last 10 to 20 years will help. Last, but not least, having a supporting family is very important: we travel a lot. Having an understanding wife, at time you might leave for a three-day business trip and due to unforeseen circumstances you end up traveling for two weeks. Having a supportive family is exceptional.

Clark Cogbill:                   

Cornelius, I know you enjoy taking long driving trips, so sometimes you extend some of your business trips and drive across the United States.

Cornelius Schnitzler:      

Yeah, that is true. I would say it’s great to see a lot of the State of Arkansas, surrounding states, get a feel for the competition out there and getting acquainted with the State of Arkansas. You might meet me in northwestern Arkansas, checking out new restaurants or in southern Arkansas visiting a golf course.

Clark Cogbill:                   

Ben, how about you? I'm sure all your time spent traveling and working internationally has really helped you in your role now at AEDC.

Ben Walters:                   

Absolutely. Thanks, Clark. Neal and Cornelius hit on the main points. For the three of us, I think that all of our interest in business, economics, politics, history and understanding cultures is a very important part in why we all work together as a good team. With that been said, I think Cornelius mentioned planning, being strategic, and we do that but when we're traveling, when we're working with international companies and representatives of those companies, we learn that flexibility, the ability to adapt, are very important skills.

Clark Cogbill:                   

So change is the norm when you're an international business developer.

Ben Walters:                   

That's correct, change is the norm. Constant change.

Clark Cogbill:                   

Our next question for Neal. What are some of the recent Arkansas economic development success stories to come from Asia?

Neal Jansen:                   

So, over the past 12 months we've had announcements from Toyota Tsusho which is a major Japanese conglomerate on a new metals recycling plant in north Little Rock. A lot of that output is going to be used for EV battery production which is an emerging sector in the U.S.

Clark Cogbill:                   

Sure.

Neal Jansen:                   

An Indian company called Wipro is planning a new I.T. service center in Sherwood that will employ up to 400 people and most recently Riceland Foods, which is in partnership with Japan's Itochu Corporation, they've announced expansions to facilities in Jonesboro and Stuttgart. So throughout 2021, despite some challenges from the pandemic, we have seen sustained foreign direct investment from APAC region.

Clark Cogbill:                   

That's great! Cornelius, I'll ask you the same question. What recent Arkansas success stories have come from Europe?

Cornelius Schnitzler:      

So there are tons of projects that you can mention. Nestle, for instant announcing a $100 million investment in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Lance is a publicly traded company filling positions during the pandemic, investing in the community, supporting local causes. Last month, I had the opportunity to attend a SHOT Show at Las Vegas as part of their Arkansas delegation led by Governor Asa Hutchinson and Secretary Mike Preston and we met with Arkansas-based companies. One of the companies was Fiocchi, an Italian manufacturer of small caliber ammunition and that company announced in the summer of 2020 that they would invest $15 million and hire 85 highly skilled employees. Today, this is a really amazing story, the company has over 180 employees and that's a great testament to the talented work force and the great business environment we have in Arkansas.

Clark Cogbill:                   

It was good to see you at the SHOT Show in Las Vegas Cornelius and now back to Neal, in your experience what are international business executives surprised to learn about Arkansas?

Neal Jansen:                   

Lots of business people are surprised to learn about the scope and importance of the aerospace industry in Arkansas. It's a sector that generates about a billion dollars a year and it accounts for around 20% of our total exports. So, it’s great that we're raising awareness of our capability in the sector and concentration of engineers and mechanics in Arkansas. Another big one is Arkansas' K-12 computer science education program which has been, in my mind, one of the hallmark policies of the Governor's administration.

Clark Cogbill:                   

Right.

Neal Jansen:                   

It's really raised our profile globally since tech skills are in such high demand.

Clark Cogbill:                   

That great to know. Cornelius, what kind of feedback do you get from business executives in Europe about Arkansas?

Cornelius Schnitzler:      

Generally speaking, I think executives are really surprised how invested the state is in attracting new businesses to Arkansas. The quality team that Arkansas has in place in Little Rock, across the world, in local communities working with international investors. They're really surprised to learn that the Governor, the Secretary, our Deputy Director travel across the world to Asia, to Europe, drive thousands of miles to these places to actually attract investment and meet the prospects. I think they're also surprised to learn the level of talent that we have in the state, the ability to attract and retain that talent and obviously the southern hospitality. How welcoming communities are to foreign investors, to businesses that want to create jobs and obviously to the people that these businesses send over to work at the locations.

Clark Cogbill:                   

Ben, you and I were talking about this earlier today. You obviously, as an international business developer, have a huge region, so how do companies find you and how do you find them?

Ben Walters:                   

Absolutely – that's a great question that we receive almost every time we are having conversations with people. There's a number of different ways that we do it, most importantly is our strategic international offices. We've located them in Berlin and Tokyo because of our historical investments from those countries and those regions of the world and through those offices they're able to be on the ground and in touch with people in those areas of interest. Here in the U.S., we work closely with the U.S. Department of Commerce and through them the International Trade Agency runs a program called Select U.S.A. The Select U.S.A. Summit, which takes place in the summer each year in Washington D.C., is a great resource for us. Tens of thousands of investors from around the world are brought together to meet economic developers from the various states in the U.S. They also have programs traveling around to different countries of interest in the world.

Neal Jansen:                   

On this end, I really like to link up with industry and policy bodies like the American chambers of commerce in Japan and Korea. Enterprise Singapore, Keidanren, AmCham Australia, the Confederation of Indian Industry and so on. Industry groups like these are great for connecting with member companies and a lot of those member companies are also globally focused. Arkansas is also a charter member of the American State Offices Association of Japan and a member of a similar group in Korea. So, we are holding lots of business seminars and networking through those groups too. Another good way is to attend conferences either in person or online, including Select U.S.A. and talk directly to reps of companies you think will be a good fit for Arkansas and when we have executive level delegations from Arkansas visiting Asia those are good times to do round table sessions with execs from a target sector or specific sector.

Clark Cogbill:                   

Cornelius, how about you? How do you find business opportunities and how do they find you in Europe?

Cornelius Schnitzler:      

Well, there's a lot of leg work involved. I think what Neal just mentioned and Ben mentioned – going to trade shows, talking to company representatives at these trade shows, getting connections, talking to local chambers, building contacts, engaging international side selectors and law firms. These are all avenues and tools that we use to get in contact with possible investors. The U.S. Foreign Commercial Service is a great support, a great tool for us a great avenue to actually meet companies – let’s say companies in Italy at investment events, meet with companies in Munich in Germany and build these connections that you need in other to succeed in a very competitive environment.

Clark Cogbill:                   

Definitely a lot of work making contact, fostering those contacts, going to trade shows. These guys work hard. All right, so at the end of the day, what are some of the reasons that internationally based businesses ultimately choose to do business in Arkansas? What are some of the common themes? Neal, I’ll start with you.

Neal Jansen:                   

Stability is a big one in many ways whether that's the stability of the grid or the I.T. infrastructure but also the stability of the state’s finances and overall economy. Arkansas has always kept a balanced budget and the AEDC and the Department of Commerce give access to the know-how and the resources that help any business succeed. Also, a cost-efficient business environment with quick access to most major markets in North America is another huge draw for Arkansas. Especially now with supply chain stability still at the top of everybody's mind. So, all in all, Arkansas offers a centrally located, cost-effective, business climate with a tech savvy work force and those are all of the key ingredients that international companies are looking for.

Clark Cogbill:                   

Cornelius, what would you add to that? What do you hear are some of the common reasons that businesses ultimately choose Arkansas?

Cornelius Schnitzler:      

I think a major topic right now is the availability of talent. The ability to hire and retain talent is exceptional in Arkansas. We learned that from existing investors, talking to companies on the ground so I think this is a major advantage for Arkansas. A great regulatory environment and very speedy permitting process that is, compared to Europe. It’s amazing how fast work in regards to permitting in the state. A competitive corporate tax rate and energy cost are also high on that list and I think welcoming communities and great state support that we offer to international investors.

Ben Walters:                   

So, Neal and Cornelius really covered the top reasons why a business executive would choose to locate in Arkansas. A central theme that we see in all of this is, it's the people. We have a strong talented work force, we're collaborative, we work together to make each other successful and that's something that often lost in other locations. As the locals say we're a one phone call state, you call any of us and we can go find you the answer and that's something you just don't find in other places.

Clark Cogbill:                   

I'm glad you brought that up. I heard the theme of collaboration a lot. As being a strength of the state. So, guys, when you're responsible for Europe and you're responsible for Asia and then maybe the whole earth, how do you navigate the cultural differences and geopolitics in your roles across different countries? Let’s start with Cornelius.

Cornelius Schnitzler:      

Sure, let me start with the more challenging question, geopolitics. Obviously, I am in a very privileged position being responsible for Europe, so we're all partners and allies, long historical ties if you look at the United Kingdom, if you look at France, if you look at Germany. So Europe and the United States obviously share common values. There might be differences in opinion regarding certain policies but there's more that unites us than actually divides us. Trade policy has been a recurring topic in transatlantic relations, so I think it’s best to explain the current state of the trade, analyze different stand points from an analytical perspective and highlight the states tools to mitigate certain perceived challenges.

Clark Cogbill:                   

Neal, how about you?

Neal Jansen:                   

Yeah, this is a broad question just because of how diverse cultures and geopolitical situations among and within Asia Pacific countries really are. It's crucial to know how to approach people in different roles in an organization based on seniority to understand how strict or lax a culture is on things like communication, timing, protocol and so on. You also have to consider current and past relations among countries in the region which range from very friendly to very frosty and make sure that everybody feels equally welcome at the table as they consider doing business in Arkansas.

Clark Cogbill:                   

Alright final question for each of you. What is your favorite activity, restaurant or destination in Arkansas? You can choose one and just tell us what it is, where it is, why you like it. We'll start with Ben.

Ben Walters:                   

Wow, Clark, that's a loaded question. Arkansas is such an amazing state – where do you begin? I mean there's so much to choose from but I want to say that Arkansas is so diverse as far as its geography. You have mountains, river valleys, lakes, the river delta, multiple rivers and even the piney woodlands in the south. So how do you choose? Some of us each have different preferences, but for me if I were to choose a favorite activity, it's being with my friends and when I'm with my friends it's going to involve being outdoors. You'll most likely find us on some trails, running, hiking, mountain biking or maybe on the water kayaking, canoeing or fishing. We're just so fortunate here to have so many options within a short drive wherever you live in the state.

Clark Cogbill:                   

Indeed. Neal, how about you?

Neal Jansen:                   

As Ben said, it's really hard to choose just one you know. There's so many great activities you can do in Arkansas that account for overall quality of place and life. Personally, I love getting out on our lakes especially DeGray Lake and Ouachita. Hiking and camping up in the Ozarks, going to see live shows and really seeing all of the new amenities and development in each part of the state whenever I can get back home for a visit.

Clark Cogbill:                   

Cornelius, how about you? A favorite activity, restaurant or destination in the natural state?

Cornelius Schnitzler:      

There's just tons of things to do. If you ask my colleagues, if you ask Ben where to find me, you'd probably find me checking out hunting gear at the store in Little Rock, the Community Bakery buying a cup of coffee and spotting a sitting U.S. senator. I like visiting the Capitol, Capitol ground. Northwest Arkansas is amazing. The restaurants at Bentonville are great, the museums, Crystal Bridges, El Dorado. I love hamburgers so there's a little place called The Minute Man, Ben took me by. Rosie's Pot and Kettle in Little Rock, another great hamburger place and obviously there's a lot of things still to do. There's the U.S. Marshals Museum in Fort Smith that I haven't had the chance yet but I'm planning on going. Catching a ball game at the Bud Walton Arena after that great resounding win the other night over the number one ranked team in the nation and the atmosphere I think that's on the top of the list.

Exactly, and obviously that's more like a family plan that I'm pursuing. I would like to attend a Christmas even with my family at the Governor's Mansion. There are quite a few opportunities to bring your kids, experience the joy of the holidays. So those are the things that I still have to do.

Clark Cogbill:                   

Well, you guys all listed some excellent things to do, places to go and things to eat. I asked you to choose your favorite and you gave me a list so that just speaks to how many things there are to do and see in the state of Arkansas.

I want to thank my guests today for participating in the Arkansas Inc. podcast. The international business team of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. Neal Jansen, the Director of AEDC's Asia office, Dr. Cornelius Schnitzler, Director of AEDC's Europe Office and Ben Walters, International Business Development Manager also on the AEDC team.

You've been listening to the Arkansas Inc. Podcast. This is Clark Cogbill, director of marketing for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. For more information about AEDC visit arkansasedc.com and connect with us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Thanks for tuning in.