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NC Group Focuses on Global Trade to Create Jobs

Saul Berenthal, a Cuban-American entrepreneur, meets President Barack Obama during a visit to Cuba. (S. Berenthal)
Saul Berenthal, a Cuban-American entrepreneur, meets President Barack Obama during a visit to Cuba. (S. Berenthal)
February 20, 2017

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — North Carolina exports more than $30 billion worth of goods and services annually, supporting more than 150,000 jobs. That is one of the many reasons why businessman Saul Berenthal hopes the state is able to continue international trade with places like his home country, Cuba.

"There's a good opportunity for both the U.S., specifically North Carolina, to have commercial interaction with Cuba. There's a lot of products that we produce here, and there's a a lot of products they produce there that we could have commerce with,” Berenthal said. "Because of the embargo, that has been very difficult."

Berenthal saw a setback late last year in his plans to assemble farm equipment in Cuba for local food producers. But he said North Carolina's bio-pharmaceutical, medical, renewable energy, banking and pork industries all stand to benefit from continued relations with Cuba.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Charlotte is the 23rd largest metro area reporting exported goods nationwide.

John Loyack is vice president of global business services at the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina. He said that while there is a common perception that foreign trade eliminates American jobs, the opposite is often the case.

"We want them selling internationally because we know that those revenues are coming back here,” Loyack said. "Those revenues come back to these businesses, which means that they've got what they need to potentially expand by another five or 10 employees. And that can mean an awful lot to some of our more rural counties."

Berenthal said beyond the economic benefits of a relationship between Cuba and the U.S., the Cuban people have learned a lot from American influence.

"I have seen a lot of progress over the years in terms of how we relate with each other on the people-level,” he said. "And I have seen significant changes in Cuba because of the impact of the Cuban people being able to be more aware of what the American people are all about - and vice versa, as a matter of fact."

Go Global NC, a public/private partnership, connects leaders from around the state with countries like Cuba. This week, it will host a business group in Cuba to help connect participants with opportunities there.

Stephanie Carson/Cynthia Howard, Public News Service - NC