AL Ag Commissioner Has Successful Trade Visit to Mexico

Randall Weiseman Alabama, Georgia

LEON, MEXICO – During a recent trade mission to Mexico in conjunction with former President Vicente Fox, Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries Commissioner Ron Sparks focused on helping Alabama manufacturing and service companies gain access to Mexican markets.

Commissioner Sparks and other agriculture officials recruited a diverse cross-section of Alabama businesses to join the mission, including manufacturers, farmers, engineering services, and insurance companies.

“International trade is a relationship building process,” Sparks said. “We work hard to provide these opportunities to all Alabama companies, because you have to be proactive in boosting sales of Alabama products, especially given today’s economic realities.”

The initial mission to Leon, Mexico, took a different approach than most trade relations efforts initiated by state governments. For example, as opposed to focusing on new industry recruitment, Sparks believes that the current economic environment calls for a redoubled effort to promote existing industry, where most gains in jobs originate. Former President Fox praised Commissioner Sparks for having the vision to initiate the partnership between Centro Fox and the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries.

As part of the trade mission process, Alabama companies submitted profiles to Centro Fox (similar to a US Presidential Library), which then searched for the best fits for these companies.

“We wanted to have prescreened matchmaking opportunities for Alabama companies when they arrived in Mexico,” Sparks said.

Sparks joined Fox at Centro Fox for a tour of the grounds and then Fox hosted Sparks and the Alabama delegation for lunch at his home.

“This was a perfect opportunity to engage our Mexican counterparts before our formal meetings,” said Ann Piper, President of Joe Piper Inc., of Birmingham.

Over a dozen Alabama companies spent the majority of the afternoon meeting multiple counterparts at Centro Fox. Some business agreements were tentatively reached, resulting in immediate sales.

“We appreciate the Department introducing us to new potential clients around the world that we might not otherwise get to partner with,” added Steve Hammack with Valley Lumber Co. in Russellville. “The Department has been a great resource for us and we definitely benefit from having Commissioner Sparks and his staff helping us as we attempt to grow our business.”

Based on the success of the initial mission, the Department of Agriculture and Industries will work with President Fox and Centro Fox on plans for Alabama to host Mexican businesses looking for partnerships with state companies.