LITTLE ROCK — After a whirlwind tour across the state, which included export meetings with over a dozen Arkansas business over a three-week span, Melvin Torres was ready to supplant his usual face-to-face meetings with remote assistance in the wake of COVID-19.
During his tour, Torres traveled to meet with small businesses and organizations across the state in Van Buren, Forth Smith, Conway, Little Rock, Rogers, Jonesboro to name a few. In the different counties, he met with organizations like the North East Arkansas Professional Hispanic Network, Sky Genie, Sowell Management, Investment Bankers, EXIM Bank, The Consul General of Mexico, Kenesek Group, Thor Group, Lycus, The Government of the City of Jonesboro, Assembled Products, Sky Genie, Knotty Dog, Poynter Capital, Leather Brothers, Arkansas State University, North East Arkansas Hispanic Center, ArtVertisement, the Arkansas District Export Council, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, Legacy Assurance, and Tap Magic, to name a few.
Torres, the director of Western Hemisphere trade at the World Trade Center of Arkansas, who is working primarily via cell phone and over his laptop to help companies survive, described the objective his “new normal” in an essay for Arkansas Money & Politics.
“In the blink of an eye, my job evolved from helping Arkansas businesses export, to assist everyone that needs help stay afloat and survive, fighting to spare our economy from doom,” Torres said. “We are looking for answers few people know, if any at all. Many calls, emails, texts, social media posts, and video conferences to find an answer to many questions in the long list.
Torres added that he’s talking to different companies everyday to help businesses survive, like explaining the different CARES Act programs available, which can help keep employees on payroll and provide direction to people who have lost their job. He also wrote a grant proposal aiming to help small businesses.
“There will soon be a time when we will continue to help our businesses and farmers export and sell their products as we always do,” Torres said. “Yet, if you ask me now what we do at the World Trade Center Arkansas, I will answer ‘we now trade kindness and resources for our businesses to survive these moments.'”
Meanwhile, the Center has established a growing list of resources, supplies and aid to keep Arkansas’ small businesses and farmers informed during the pandemic, which may not peak until early summer, according to Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
“The visits cemented a relationship that has facilitated communication on needs and opportunities for many of these companies during the Pandemic. My office is now through social media, a cell phone, a laptop computer, video conferences, and text. Now, I am talking to businesses on a daily basis to prepare for returning exports to a normal environment. One thing we have learned through this Pandemic is that kindness resides in everyone’s heart and we are all sharing it amongst each other and helping as much as we can.” Torres added
The Center’s mission is to grow trade and increase Arkansas exports by connecting Arkansas businesses to the world through international trade services. The center is part of the University of Arkansas and serves as the trade promotion arm for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. For more information and valuable updates, please follow the center on Facebook and Twitter or subscribe to the World Trade Center Arkansas newsletter.