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The Arkansas Exporters Roundtable (AER, now Arkansas World Trade Club) was organized in 1971 by Al Pollard, president of the Brooks-Pollard advertising agency of Little Rock (Pulaski County). He invited a half-dozen community leaders with an understanding of foreign trade and its importance to Arkansas commerce to meet together. The goals were a ready exchange of information and networking opportunities for exporters. From this group, AER emerged.
Pollard saw that most Arkansas businesses lacked interest in international markets. At the time, there was little advisory assistance for potential exporters in the state. AER turned to the University of Arkansas, particularly the Industrial Research and Extension Center (IREC). IREC began offering workshops throughout the state and individual counseling through Armand de Laurell, at that time the specialist in international trade on the staff. The relationship continues to this day through the Institute for Economic Advancement and the Dean's Office at the College of Business Administration of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR).
At the instigation of AER, the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission (AIDC), a state agency, expanded to develop international trade for Arkansas. AER was also a moving force to influence the U.S. Department of Commerce to establish a district office dedicated to exporting. That office, based in Little Rock, is the U.S. Export Assistance Center (USEAC) of the International Trade Administration (ITA). AER and the USEAC staff created the Arkansas District Export Council and other World Trade Club chapters throughout the state.
From 1971 to 1974, AER met monthly. Discussions included state and federal trade legislation, Arkansas export opportunities, and general problems, such as trade barriers, tariffs, and export policy. Meetings were open to the public for anyone interested in international markets. When Pollard became ill, Joe O’Brien, an international trade executive, became president, and Bart Westerlund, a UALR marketing professor, became vice president. The AIDC (now the Arkansas Department of Economic Development) and ITA staffs have served as the secretariat for AER.
In the late 1970s, the name of AER was changed to the Arkansas World Trade Club, which more correctly denotes the breadth of its focus. The club now meets on an irregular basis. Meetings are called when a visiting foreign ambassador, U.S. ambassador to a trade-partner country, or ITA senior commercial officer at a foreign embassy is available to speak. Members include exporters, freight-forwarding specialists, and other business leaders.
For additional information:Arkansas Department of Economic Development. Online at http://arkansasedc.com/ (accessed December 9, 2011).
Last Updated 12/9/2011
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