On Thursday, Sept. 19, Arkansas welcomed policy makers from the European Union and across the United States as part of the 10th US-EU Small and Medium Enterprises Workshop. The workshop, held in Little Rock, is part of an ongoing dialogue on how to increase trade between the European Union and the United States.
During the workshop, attendees participated in four panels, each focused on different topics related to increasing trade cooperation between the two parties. The day’s first panel discussed small and medium enterprises international strategies and rural economic development. The organizers believe that smaller companies, both in the United States and European, share common challenges when it comes to addressing international trade. Similarly, rural businesses have common challenges no matter which side of the Atlantic they are located on. Participants on the panel included Mike Preston, Secretary of Commerce of Arkansas; Tricia Van Orden, Trade Promotion Coordination Committee, U.S. Department of Commerce; Manuel Palazuelos Martinez, Joint Research Centre, European Commission; Kim Lane, Senior Advisor, Global Entrepreneurship Network; Karyn Page, President and CEO, Kansas Global Trade Services, Chair of the ITAC 9 Industry Trade Advisory Committee on Small and Minority Business, Wichita, Kansas; and Luc Hendrickx, Director, SMEunited, Belgium.
During the panel discussion Karyn Page encouraged the audience to have a “spirit of experimentation” and not to get stuck in a frame work. “Arkansas companies also have a responsibility to connect to state and local service providers” she said. According to Page, this philosophy is part of the “Kansas common sense” that she applies to programs she administers in Kansas.
Luc Hendric from SMEuited in Belgium pointed out that 99.8 percent of all European businesses are small businesses. He further explained that the definition for small business was different in Europe in comparison to the United States. While the U.S. government defines small business as those with less than 500 employees, Europe defines small business as those with 250 employees or less. While discussing rural growth strategies, Hendric highlighted the need to ensure supply structures and social life, decentralize energy production, rural areas need a strong manufacturing basis, the need to have a broad concept for innovation (not solely defining it as high tech) and viewing importing and exporting as equally important.
The second panel discussed small and medium enterprise participation in transatlantic supply chains. Participants included Martin Pilser, DG TRADE, European Commission; Antoine Ajarrista, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Dassault Falcon Jet; Gina Radke, Galley Support Innovations, Sherwood, Arkansas; Dominic Boucsein, Head of International Trade and Foreign Policy, Eurochambres, Belgium; Boon Tan, Senior Director, Global Trade Strategy, World Trade Center Arkansas; Tino Barth, CEO Salesline Solutions GmbH, Deputy Chairman of the SME Policy Advisory Committee at the German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK), Germany; and Caroline Nesbitt, Creative Director, Designedly.ie, Ireland.
Boon Tan discussed how the World Trade Center help build transatlantic supply chains through starting good relationships. The trade center manages grant programs to help Arkansas companies visit European tradeshows where supply chain relationships can be started. He emphasized that their grants do not cover the entire cost of the trip.
Panel three discussed local workforce training for global competitiveness.
The final panel of the day was US and EU Small and Medium enterprises in Industries of the Future. The emphasis was highlighting innovation on both sides of the ocean. Participants included Sharon Ballard, CEO, NuShores, Little Rock, Arkansas; Marco Cruz, Ambots, Fayettville, Arkansas; Caitlin Hickey, Director, Government Relations and Legal Affairs, Representative of German Industry + Trade (RGIT), Washington DC; Dr. Janet Angel Welch, CEO, Eco Bio Clean/JACOR LLC, Wauconda, Illinois; Jouko Ahvenainen, Co-founder & Chairman, Grow VC Group, US / United Kingdom / Finland; and Dejan Spasovski, Director, Ineor, Slovenia.
Sharon Ballard led off the discussions about innovation by describing how NuShores technology can help bones regenerate over a gap. In some medical cases, if a sufficient amount of bone is missing it can lead to amputation. The NuShores technology bridges the gap in the bone and allows the human body to 1) regrow bone and 2) to regrow bone faster – in some cases twice as fast. She highlighted how SBIR funding and funding from the Department of Defense has enabled her company to innovate.
Marco Cruz described how innovation at his company was enabled by the iFund entrepreneurial program. The program requires participants to make dozens of customer discovery calls. During that process, Ambots pivoted to tackle specific problems they discovered in the construction industry.
Caitlin Hickey described how the “Mittelstand” is the backbone of the German Economy. Loosely translated Mittelstand describes small, lean and often entrepreneurial companies in Germany. She further described how German companies are applying Industry 4.0 principals to be innovative.
Throughout the day the regulations were a frequent topic. It was pointed out that it is expensive to comply with a different set of European regulations that covered the same intent as regulations in the United States.
Overall, the number of international participants was impressive. Significant effort was made to have many overseas experts in attendance. Also impressive was the number of officials from Washington D.C. It was clear that both American and European participants are committed to reducing barriers to trade.