By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—There is a vision to bring Alabama products to the countries of Latin America and a group of Alabamians is leading the way.
Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries John McMillan is the face of Alabama’s government to the countries of Central America. Meeting with presidents, government officials and plain folks, McMillan with the help of Dr. Randy Brinson, Dr. William Batchelor and others is forging a partnership of trade.
“We are making some real progress down here and it is just the beginning of a good and profitable relationship for the people of these countries and the people of Alabama,” said McMillan after his most recent trip to Central America.
McMillan, Brinson and Batchelor recently returned from a whirlwind tour of Honduras and Guatemala where business and personal ties are being formed.
McMillan says the goal of these trips is to develop working relationships with the two countries to export Alabama products to them as well as bring some of their goods back to Alabama.
Dr. William Batchelor the Dean of Auburn Universities, College of Agriculture, he is working to establish a student and faculty exchange with the two countries to help expand education, productivity and learning for Auburn and its Latin American counterparts.
McMillan says, he sees tremendous opportunities for collaboration between the universities and Agriculture, “Auburn, is number one in fisheries and there is a lot of work that they can do together in that area.”
McMillan also says that there is a great opening for Alabama poultry growers as well as other livestock providers in these countries.
“Most of the poultry in Honduras and Guatemala has been coming from Mexico and they have had some terrible problems with Avian flu, so that is a place we can help.”
He believes that the abundance and quality of produce grown in those countries could be a good fit for import to Alabama.
McMillan, not one to sit on his hands and wait for things to happen, is always on the lookout for ways to improve agriculture and industry in the state. In this instance, he says the inspiration for the Central American Alliance was a result of the foundation being laid by Dr. Randy Brinson, a Montgomery gastroenterologist.
“This is really all a result of Randy’s work,” says McMillan.
Of course anyone who has spent even a small time in politics knows that Dr. Randy Brinson is a man who has led change throughout the United States with, “Redeem the Vote.” As the founder and chairman of Redeem the Vote, founded in 2003, Dr. Brinson and his wife Pamela, started the nonprofit organization to improve voter registration and participation among young people of faith. During the 2000 election, evangelical participation was estimated to be limited by 4 million voters who had been disenfranchised. During the 2004 election, Redeem the Vote registered over 78,000 people, outpacing all other faith-based voter outreach efforts combined. Subsequent data complied by the Pew Foundation and USA Today confirmed that the value voters and increased participation among people of faith significantly influenced the election, with Redeem the Vote being one of the most influential.
After the success of Redeem the Vote in the US, Brinson said, “We began to be contacted by people in Latin America who wanted to accomplish the kind of success we had in registering Christians and having them turn of to vote in their countries.” He also says that “the conservative, pro-democracy, pro-Untied States and pro-Israel leaders in these countries come out of the Catholic church. We received calls from people who wanted us to help them fight Marxism and leftist forces in these countries.”
Out of a calling to help united Christians to vote, to the political leaders and the business leaders in Latin America, Brinson has led a path to help Alabamians prosper.
“What we have been trying to do for the last year is to promote exports to Latin American countries,” Brinson said. “While domestic spending here in the United States has been depressed because of the economic downturn, some Latin American economies are actually growing.”
Brinson says there is an emerging middle class in these countries and the things they want are American products. But he says that his organization took a different approach to the export opportunities. “Rather than just bringing an individual producer we are bringing together a comprehensive approach of things that these countries need. Security, infrastructure, energy, all the things that make their economies grow so they can have greater purchasing power to buy more exports,” said Brinson.
He says that “because of the proximity of these countries to the Port of Mobile we have been able to make it clear that we can get those product to them.”
“John has been very well received by the government of these countries,” said Brinson. “We have met with the President of Hondurus, President Lobo, all of that countries cabinet ministers. We also met with the Agriculture Minister of Guatemala and all the key commodity purchasers of both countries.
McMillan, Brinson and Batchelor seem to agree that to bring a more comprehensive approach is the key to success, with business, academics and government working together to bring a better future for Guatemala and Honduras which will in turn bring more money to Alabama and create more jobs for the people of the state.