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Northwest Arkansas Tries To Entice Foreign Suppliers

Economic development officials are working to bring more manufacturers and suppliers to the region, which already hosts big names like Tyson Foods and Wal-Mart.

BENTONVILLE, Ark. (AP) -- Economic development officials in northwest Arkansas are working to bring about another wave of manufacturers and suppliers.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer and Tyson Foods Inc., the world's largest meat producer, are both located in the region and serve as a major selling point when leaders try to entice businesses to develop a presence in northwest Arkansas.

The region has plenty of room for more supplier offices. With the slow economy, Bentonville alone has 380,000 square feet of vacant commercial space, Bentonville-Bella Vista Chamber of Commerce president Ed Clifford said.

Clifford has twice traveled to South Korea to meet with manufacturers and try to convince them they need an Arkansas presence. He said he has spoken with more than 500 manufacturers and suppliers in Korea and is hopeful that the end result will be South Korean supplier offices in Bentonville.

"I think if we can get a couple of major category killers -- in electronics, for example, Samsung -- then I think the rest would come soon," Clifford said. "That's how things happened with the U.S. companies. Once the big suppliers were here, the others came, too."

But a mix of public and private sectors, including the Bentonville-Bella Vista Chamber of Commerce, have been working to drive a second wave of suppliers to the region. The difference now is that the area is working to attract foreign companies.

The Arkansas World Trade Center has been busy trying to expand northwest Arkansas' reach into the international business community through trade missions locally and abroad. The center is linked with the University of Arkansas, which trains students in its business college in international trade.

Dan Hendrix, trade center president, recently hosted a delegation of South Korean officials and businessmen.

"It is a continuous discussion on almost a weekly basis with companies that are interested in locating here as a result of that mission and others," Hendrix said.

Hendrix last week returned from a trade mission to Nicaragua. He also traveled to India in February and Italy two years ago to develop business ties with those countries.

"It takes a lot of time and patience, but we believe that a lot of these meetings and relationships will come to fruition in the near future and will generate some economic development in the area," Hendrix said.

Cameron Smith, president of Rogers-based Cameron Smith Associates, an executive search firm specializing in Wal-Mart vendor teams, said he also has an interest in increasing the number of international businesses in northwest Arkansas.

Smith and partners Gary Dunn and Steve Schotta formed Global Supplier Services in 2006, and last year visited China to recruit Chinese firms to northwest Arkansas.

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