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Denise thomas was named CEO of World Trade Center Arkansas in July.
Originally from California, Thomas holds a bachelor’s degree in fashion design and marketing from American InterContinental University in Arizona. She began her career in economic development in 1998 at the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce in Florida. There she worked with the US Small Business Administration to create a networking center for entrepreneurs. Thomas was then appointed to oversee the diversity, equity and inclusion division of that chamber.
Thomas moved to Arkansas in 2002 and joined Walmart Inc. as a senior recruiter. She arrived at the World Trade Center Arkansas five years later and was one of its first staff. She is the first black woman to become CEO of a World Trade Center in the United States.
What exactly is the mission of the World Trade Center Arkansas and how does it work?
Simply put, we help Arkansas companies expand into the global marketplace to grow two-way business with Natural State. The main ways we help these companies are through new market research, inbound / outbound trade missions, and consultations with our trade experts.
One of our most powerful tools is the State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) Grant, which is provided by the US Small Business Administration. We allocate it to qualifying Arkansas small businesses to fund export initiatives such as trade shows, exhibitions, consulting, website translations, marketing, and more.
We are also affiliated with the University of Arkansas, so we are at the forefront of business education. Our business managers are often invited to teach courses at UA classes and local business groups. We also have a huge and dynamic internship program which has been a launching pad for students into the professional world.
If companies want to export products, what should they keep in mind? What should they do or not do?
Doing homework is a must.
There are hundreds of little details: legal and / or special concessions or limitations on your product, packaging requirements, labeling requirements, licensing requirements – to name a few.
The best thing to do is to focus on one or two countries of interest first and do your homework on the legal entry requirements. For example, something as simple as not knowing that a specific dye cannot be imported into the country of interest can be a costly mistake. Failure to take the initiative early can cause you to fail before you start. The biggest and most common mistake in trading is not doing thorough research.
What are the advantages of Arkansas in the global market? What are our drawbacks?
Arkansas’ best advantage is its relatively small size. We are agile and able to react quickly to trends and changes. Arkansas’ largest export industries have a direct impact on our economy as we have direct market relationships that have been established for years. This gives us a huge advantage while also fostering a positive environment to build strategic relationships within these industries.
However, our size can also be our biggest weakness. We are not primarily sought after by large corporations for business opportunities, and the larger states tend to attract attention. We need to work on commercializing our best traits, two of which include a low cost of living and access to several beautiful natural amenities for a workforce.
What does it mean to you personally to be the first black woman to lead a WTC in the United States?
It is an honor and a privilege to be part of such a prestigious organization. â¦ My personal mission is to promote ethical business practices and show how the World Trade Center Association and the AU can be a positive thought leader on the world stage.