Leaders from 24 countries get taste of Yuma agriculture at ACE event

Posted: Wednesday, April 13, 2016 10:18 pm | Updated: 10:20 pm, Wed Apr 13, 2016.

By Matt Harding, Yuma Sun staff writer

A group of business and government leaders from around the globe stopped in Yuma yesterday to get a taste of area agribusiness as part of the 5th annual Americas Competitiveness Exchange (ACE) on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which this year travels through Arizona and California.

The ACE program is about bringing together business leaders in various fields to explore regional partnerships, collaborations and economic development opportunities.

“It’s just an incredible opportunity for Arizona to showcase our assets in the areas of innovation, entrepreneurship (and) technology development,” said Sandra Watson, president and CEO of the Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA), which is hosting the international delegation during their weeklong trip through the southwest.

Participants from 24 countries, among them South Korea, Kazakhstan, Uruguay, Estonia and Argentina, heard from Dean Shane Burgess and Associate Dean Jeff Silvertooth of the University of Arizona’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at the Yuma Center of Excellence for Desert Agriculture.

Among the topics also discussed by the center’s executive director, Paul Brierley, and its board chairman, Robby Barkley, were public-private partnerships, Yuma’s agriculture, and innovation.

Inspiration, invention and implementation are the keys to innovation, said Burgess.

“You have to be inspired to do something … we have to set up a system which enables (public and private partners) to be inspired so that we can then be jointly inventive,” said Burgess, who added that those ideas were pointless unless they could be implemented in the marketplace.

Barkley spoke about Yuma’s vibrant agribusiness, and the experimental farms that surround the center.

Barkley said his family migrated to the Yuma area 100 years ago, when agriculture was much different.

“The area around here was desert, sand hills and swamps,” he said. “Over time, we started to grow grains, cotton, and then we got into winter vegetables and we started planting permanent crops.”

Quantifying it for the group, he said the total value of the industry is about $1.2 billion, and a $2.5 to $3 billion economic driver for the area.

Silvertooth, along with 32-year farm superintendent Bert Hernandez, guided the group on a tour around part of the 274 acres of valley farmland, located at 6425 W. 8th St., near the California and Mexico borders.

The primary wisdom Silvertooth imparted on the guests was the importance of the Colorado River to Yuma agriculture.

Silvertooth told the Yuma Sun that events like this one allow the university to show off the unique aspects of Yuma, and it also opens up face-to-face communication with people around the world, he said.

Creating partnerships with industry leaders around the world was important to Brierley, who said working together was the key to successful ventures.

To end the day, the Greater Yuma Economic Development Corporation hosted a dinner for the global guests, as well as local leaders such as Yuma Mayor Doug Nicholls, and country leaders including U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce Jay Williams and U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Western Hemisphere John Andersen.

The importance of learning from one another was highlighted by Williams, who was appointed by President Obama in May 2014 and previously was the mayor of Youngstown, Ohio.

“We can’t operate in a silo,” Williams said. Creating relationships and connections, he said, would be “invaluable” to creating economic opportunity.

Andersen said ACE is a great “example of how we can work together,” adding that it allows for people to come together to move forward regionally and globally in innovative fields.

ACA president Watson stressed the need to develop business-to-business relationships to achieve big goals. The ACE program, she said, was a good way to bring people to a region to start a relationship to work on those broad goals.

“It’s an opportunity to enhance commercial opportunities internationally,” she said.