African Chamber of Commerce of the Pacific Northwest
Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak with you once again.
If the topic is Washington trade and economic development, I am always happy to take part, as this is a major part of what we do in my office. And, especially in these uncertain economic times, we need to be doing all we can to uncover and develop new markets of opportunity.
On behalf of the state of Washington, I would especially like to welcome to our country the most distinguished visitor, his Excellency Ambassador Daniel Ohene Agyekum (O-HEN-Aa A-GEE-KOOM) from Ghana. I understand Ambassador Agyekum will help open the new store at Seattle Chocolates down in the SouthCenter area later today. Hopefully you will get to sample some of their fine chocolate made from African cocoa beans, which I will say more about over the course of my remarks.
As we talk about the relations between Africa and Washington, it is first important to note the myriad of influences people from the continent of Africa have on our state. This is presented to us through music, culture, trade, food, education and many other areas.
We celebrate the African culture at the annual Folk Life Festival in Seattle, All African Liberation Day and around the holidays with Kwanzaa, which is not religious in nature but is in celebration of African cultural and historical heritage.
Our schools observe Black History Month in February and around that time we also pay tribute to one of our nation’s greatest inspirations, the Rev. Martin Luther King, whose time on this earth was far too short. We have a number of excellent restaurants in the greater Puget Sound area that serve African fare. These include the Pan Africa, the Banidar and the Safari Kenyan Cuisine, to name a few.
distinguished population of African-Americans in Washington includes
leaders in education, business, technology and government at the very
highest of levels. We are
fortunate to have three honorary consuls representing African nations in
our state, one from Uganda, one from Ethiopia and a third from the
Seychelles. And our state’s history is bursting with stories where
people of African descent have made their mark, starting with the
So today we celebrate the contributions of Africans, African-Americans and, especially, explore ways that we can develop even closer ties with that mighty continent so far away. I know many of you here are small business owners, African immigrants, members of non-governmental organizations and others that are somehow involved in Africa and the promise it holds for us.
We hear so much about the turmoil within the continent. Almost daily we are bombarded with news about the millions of starving children in drought-ridden East Africa, the political unrest in place like Somalia or, more recently, the successful revolutions in Libya and Egypt.
We have wonderful organizations within the Pacific Northwest that are doing amazing things to help address those situations, such as Federal Way-based World Vision and Portland-based Mercy Corps. We also have organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation headquartered here in Seattle, and PATH, which are working around the clock to address global health concerns like malaria.
It is these groups , along with efforts by our federal government, that are truly making a difference, although, sadly, they are hardly scratching the surface of what needs to be done. But little by little progress is being made. Even personal initiatives are bearing fruit.
A few weeks ago the office of World Vision in Federal Way was visited by a man named Don Schoendorfer (“Shone-dorfer”) from the Los Angeles area. About 10 years ago Mr. Schoendorfer and his wife Laurie were vacationing in Morocco when they saw a disabled woman trying to drag herself across a dirt road.
Don, an inventor and M-I-T-trained engineer by trade, learned that this woman’s plight was not uncommon – wheel chairs were simply too expensive. So he came up with a crude, cheap prototype chair made from a plastic lawn chair and just a few dollars in parts.
In fact, building inexpensive wheel chairs for disabled Africans and in other developing countries became his mission in life. He started a foundation and now, 10 years and many prototypes later, the foundation has distributed nearly 600,000 wheel chairs, all for free, to disabled people in Africa and around the world - at a cost of just over $60 each. It is this kind of ingenuity, applied entrepreneurship in both the areas of charity and commerce that is making a lasting and positive difference.
What this gathering is really all about today is using some of that American – and African – ingenuity to improve our relationships and find mutually beneficial ways to work together. It is so often that we hear about the problems on the continent that it overshadows the exciting and reciprocal exchanges that are just waiting to take off.
There are many nations in Africa that have moved past the turmoil that plagues much of the rest of the continent and are doing quite well.. South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria all boasted Gross Domestic Products of more than 200 billion dollars U.S. in 2010, with Algeria and Morocco well over 100 billion GDP.
The GDP of Africa as a whole is now placed at about 2.5 percent of the world’s total. China, specifically, has increased its investments in Africa by tenfold or more since 2001. Africa’s overall growth in GDP, despite widespread poverty across the continent, has been as high as 6 percent in recent years. The economies among the countries of northern Africa are closely tied to those of Europe, and serve as economic gateways to the rest of the immense continent.
So as we look for new opportunities, we must embrace all that is good and right in this continent so far away, and do what we can to help Africa as a whole in its march toward self-sustainability. This will happen in part by us collectively working toward a diverse, yet sustainable, economic platform that helps people both in Africa and in the state of Washington.
I would like to spend a few minutes talking about three diverse opportunities that are already happening right here in Washington, having to do with boats, beer and chocolate. What could be more diverse than that?
Just to the north of here, in Everett, is a boat manufacturing company called Thain Boat Works. A couple of years ago Thain entered a partnership in Uganda to build a new ferry system on Lake Victoria, which as many of you know is bordered by Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. Lake Victoria is among the largest lakes in the world, and is ringed by a population of 32 million people.
Now I must tell you that Thain Boat Works is not building ferries for Lake Victoria for charitable reasons, but for business reasons. Simply put, the existing ferry fleet on Lake Victoria – especially the fleet from Uganda – had crumbled to the point of non-existence.
Thain saw a business opportunity, and partnered with a Ugandan national to create a company called Earth Wise. Thain’s business plan calls for the construction of 10 wood and Fiberglas catamarans, each about 60 feet and capable of carrying 150 passengers per run.
These boats are efficient to build and powered by older Caterpillar engines. Why? Because their main source of fuel is strained vegetable oil rather than diesel. Vegetable oil is readily available from suppliers in Africa and the older catamarans are better suited for burning vegetable oil than the newer ones. And because of that regional reliance, the mere presence of these boats is creating new jobs, in Africa, in energy production.
Thain is building these boats at their plant here and shipping the components in containers to Uganda, where they are staged for final assembly. The company calls these “ferries in a box.” One boat is already there, and is now under sea trials on the lake and should be carrying passengers shortly. With each boat is a trained and fully accredited, local crew, which will operate the craft to the highest of professional standards.
According to Stan Youngs, the general manager of Thain Boat Works, the company’s goal is to simply get over there, establish their service and to let free market principles take over. So this effort is really a win-win for Washington and Africa. It creates jobs both here and there, and will ultimately provide a valuable, marketable service that could potentially serve millions.
Now I will spend a little time talking about, well, beer. It turns out that Nigeria is among our state’s largest export markets for hops. In the shipping year of 2009 to 2010, Nigeria imported 642,868 pounds of hops, or, actually, hop extract, almost all of which most likely came from the state of Washington we are told. What is really good about this export from a jobs standpoint is that we don’t just ship the raw product over there, as we do with our forest resources.
The hops extract is first put into cans, ranging from soup-sized to 50-gallon drums, in processing facilities in the Yakima Valley. These cans are loaded onto refrigerated container trucks, hauled over to the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, placed on ships, then transported through the Panama Canal to Nigeria where the product is received by breweries in Nigeria.
In fact Nigeria is Washington’s 21st largest customer for Washington hop extracts. The number one customer is Belgium Luxembourg, maker of Heineken. I do not know if there is any Nigerian beer that makes its way back to the United States, but if there is you can almost be assured that the beer is Washington-born.
So we certainly export a lot of hops to Nigeria, but you can also find another popular Washington agricultural product in African nations – particularly nations to the north. That would be the apple.
Egypt, Libya and Morocco all buy Washington apples. And, as of a couple of years ago when the market opened up, South Africa began buying Washington apples too.
Last year we shipped 24 containers of apples into Africa, representing 409,476 bushels, according to our friends at the Washington Apple Commission. In sum that is about $7.5 million in apples, mostly of the Red Delicious variety.
As with wheat, there is competition from Europe, primarily from France and Spain. One of our challenges, of course, is keeping the product market fresh as it makes its long journey overseas. We also send a lot of fish and dairy products to Africa.
We are told very little Washington wheat makes its way to Africa, due again to competition from the north, although nearby Yemen buys about 12 percent of our wheat export market due to a strong preference for making flat bread, a dietary staple, from soft white wheat grown exclusively here in the Northwest. Potatoes are also a promising market in Africa, especially packaged, dehydrated potatoes which are processed here in Washington, because they store well and can be used for a variety of purposes.
Okay, I said I would cover beer and have now spilled into more than that in the area of Washington exports. And I didn’t even touch our technology sector! But now I would like to talk a little about an African product that is imported here, and in fact is very important to an industry that is also important to my wife, Linda. That would be chocolates.
As I mentioned at the start of my remarks, the distinguished Ambassador Daniel Ohene Agyekum from Ghana took part today in the opening of a new Seattle Chocolates store down in the Tukwila area. That is significant, because Ghana is a major producer of cocoa, and the majority of cocoa beans that are used in Seattle Chocolates are from either Ghana or from Nigeria. I am told that there was a time when most cocoa came from South America, but over the past century that has changed to the point where the majority comes from West Africa.
Seattle Chocolates is one of our region’s big chocolate producers. They produce about 800,000 pounds of chocolate a year, including such products as the extremely popular Macy’s Frango line, Target’s Choxie line of Truffle bars and its own assorted brands. While the company imports cocoa from African suppliers, rather than the raw beans, the management of Seattle Chocolates is actively engaged in making a difference in the West African economy.
Neil Campbell, the president of Seattle Chocolates, is an active member of the World Cocoa Foundation which encourages sustainable and responsible cocoa growing and supports cocoa farmers.
In fact, Neil tells us that the 10 chocolate producers in Washington and others throughout the west coast are more partners than competitors, especially when it comes to encouraging cocoa trade and responsible production and good strains. The Foundation is now working on replacing the aging cocoa tree groves in Africa to ensure a hearty future for the crop there. They also subsidize schools in Ghana and make sure that there is a fair labor market.
Chocolate is huge to the west African economy so sustaining a vibrant industry is very important to that region. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has invested between 20 and 30 million dollars into the World Cocoa Foundation to improve the quality of life in cocoa-producing countries. Perhaps as a sign of solidarity with Africa, Neil, company CEO Jean Thompson and another executive even climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro last summer!
By the way, Seattle Chocolates has been quite generous with our office – we include boxes of their chocolates in the Washington gift packs we give to visiting dignitaries.
I tell you these stories as examples of the living trade we, in Washington, have with our friends from Africa. In my role as lieutenant governor I have been incredibly honored to welcome several African delegations, including the amazing Ugandan Orphans Choir earlier this year, to our state’s capital.
I suggest that as government leaders and as business people we continue to look for every opportunity to engage in trade and cultural exchanges with the great continent.
Why? Trade is crucial to our state’s prosperity. It creates jobs and stimulates our economy, and is important to our state’s future.
Even with our economy still pulling out of a recession, trade remains a bright spot, especially here in Washington where we have so much to offer the rest of the world.
We have a very diverse portfolio to share. Forest products, our huge agricultural industry, wine, software, aerospace products, information and communication technology, green and clean technology, life sciences, building materials and wood products, and high tech industrial manufacturing are all in that portfolio.
Washington wine is huge, growing leaps and bounds each year. A few years ago I met with a group of entrepreneurs from Africa who were interested in learning more about our wine industry. One of our wineries was purchased by a couple from South Africa earlier this year, and I see a lot of opportunity for wine exchanges.
We export more than $50 billion a year to markets around the world. In 2010 we posted exports to 209 countries, total of $53 billion. These numbers do include aerospace products, but not software exports, services such as foreign exchange programs in our universities and consulting services offered by a myriad of specialists. Nor do they include Internet sales and services from “e-tailers” (like Amazon).
So, how do we take advantage of these markets? Now, more than ever, we need to look at ourselves, where we are and where we want to be. We need to think hard, work hard and act fast to stay in the game. We need to continue to find and develop new markets and stay on the leading edge to keep our competitiveness.
The continent of Africa is a place where we can be especially proactive and visionary, as it holds great promise. As business people, as government officials we need to look, think and act.
The economy may be slower today than it was a few years ago, but it is improving and we have to continue to try. We can either sit andwatch or we can take positive steps to keep us moving ahead.
Whether it is beer, potatoes, boats, chocolates or something entirely different, we can find ways to be creative in Africa and to come out with big wins for our respective economies and ourselves.
Thomas Edison said:
“Be courageous. I have seen many depressions in business. Always America has emerged from these stronger and more prosperous. Be brave as your fathers before you. Have faith! Go forward!”
Thomas Edison is said to have failed more than 1,000 times when trying to create the light bulb. When asked about it, Edison allegedly said, “I have not failed 1,000 times. I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to NOT make a light bulb.”
“I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt is another step forward.”
We live in an ever changing world and it is up to Washington to step up to the challenge, be innovative, and keep our economy broad and strong.
Let’s follow Edison’s lead and do what we can to get the lights glowing.
Together we can build strong communities, for our kids, for business and for the future. Thank you.