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How an Internship at the World Trade Center Launched my Career in Global Food Safety – Lawson Hembree

How an internship at the World Trade

Center Launched my Career in Global 

Food Safety

by Lawson Hembree, V

Former World Trade Center Arkansas intern Lawson Hembree had never been outside of the U.S. before graduating from college. He didn’t even own a passport. Now he’s the Strategic Marketing Manager for a global food safety company with a passport that’s quickly filling up.

Learn how an internship at the World Trade Center Arkansas piqued his interest in international trade and launched his career at Safe Foods Corporation of North Little Rock. Hembree also provides insight on how students and professionals can position themselves for success in international trade. 

Heading into the summer before my senior year at John Brown University, I had never been outside of the United States. I didn’t even have a passport. Yet here I was, getting ready to start an internship at the World Trade Center Arkansas. Little did I know that this opportunity would set me on a path that would lead to a career with a global food safety company.

I began my internship in the summer of 2010. I had the opportunity to serve under Boon Tan, who was the Director of Asia Trade at the time. My primary task was to support his efforts in helping Arkansas businesses expand their footprint in Asia and to help Asian companies find opportunities in Arkansas.

Throughout the summer, we hosted trade delegations from China, India, and Peru. These events provided a chance to network with international business leaders and learn about the infinite possibilities that are now possible through globalization.

In addition, Boon proved to be a kind mentor who took me under his wing and shared his insights with me.

Lawson Hembree and Boon Tan stand together at the World Trade Center Arkansas in 2010.














It was during this time that I first met Chris Coleman who was leading the international business development efforts for Safe Foods Corporation, a food safety company in Arkansas.

Safe Foods was in the midst of a significant growth spurt on the international front and was looking to enter new markets in Asia and the Middle East. I was assigned the task of performing market research for the company.


Joining Safe Foods Corporation


As my senior year began, Chris Coleman and I stayed in touch and he later reached out to me to with an opportunity to join the Safe Foods team in a strategic marketing role.

I have now been with Safe Foods for four years. My responsibilities now include managing the relationships with our distribution partners in the Middle East, Asia, and Russia in addition to providing marketing assistance to our business development directors in Canada and Latin America. Consequently, my once non-existent passport is filling up quickly with stamps from seven countries and counting. Safe Foods is celebrating its 20th year in business and is getting ready to add clients in its 11th country.

If not for my internship at the World Trade Center Arkansas, I likely would not have gained an interest in international business and would not be working with the marvelous team at Safe Foods. Boon and I grab lunch on a regular basis to discuss the latest developments in global trade and to swap travel stories. I look forward to adding more stamps to my passport as I continue to build on my World Trade Center experience.


Chris Coleman of Safe Foods (left) sits with Lawson Hembree (right) at a luncheon in 2010. As an intern for the World Trade Center Arkansas, Hembree worked with Coleman to perform market research for Safe Foods Corp. when Coleman served as head of international sales. Coleman now serves as CEO and recruited Hembree to serve at Safe Foods.


Positioning Yourself for Success


International trade and global business offer companies and professionals exceptional opportunities for growth and career development. For businesses looking to go global and for students interested in these areas, there are several practices to consider in order to position yourself for success.

For students, the list is quite simple and self-explanatory:

  • Take classes related to international trade
  • Intern with a global company or service provider
  • Stay aware of global events, especially those related to trade
  • Spend time with people from other countries and cultures
  • Attend networking events


Lawson Hembree (center-right) stands with Safe Foods Director of Business Development—Latin America Orlando Pagan (left), Senior Manager Regulatory Affairs Beatrice Maingi (center-left) and James Aardappel, Director, U.S. Commercial Service in Little Rock (right) during an award ceremony in May 2019 in which Safe Foods Corporation received the President’s “E” Award for Excellence in Exporting.


For businesses or organizations, there are several things you can do to adapt and prepare for intercultural challenges.

First, take advantage of resources. Organizations like the World Trade Center Arkansas, the Department of Commerce’s Commercial Service division, a local District Export Council, and even local universities all offer programs and resources are good places to start looking.

Second, learn from others in your industry. In order to discover and prioritize which markets to enter first, research what others in your industry are already doing. Which markets do they serve? What was the process they had to go through? Have they had success or have they had struggled or even withdrawn?

And lastly, find reliable partners in those target regions. If you are interested in entering a new market or region, your primary objective should be to find a reliable distribution partner or agent. A trustworthy partner can drastically shorten your time-to-market and cost of doing business by assisting with approvals, tariffs, logistics, sales, and a host of other business activities.

These practices, though simple, can provide a solid foundation and give you the necessary exposure to help plan for a future in international trade.

Lawson Hembree, V interned at the World Trade Center Arkansas in 2010 and serves as a Strategic Marketing Manager for Safe Foods Corporation in Little Rock. You can contact him at