President Obama’s current trip to sub-Saharan Africa, with stops planned for Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa, seemed a timely moment to update the blog post, below, I originally wrote last fall. As I noted then, “over the past decade, six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies” are in Africa.
That’s a statistic not lost on American corporations; as this recent Wall Street Journal piece notes, household names from General Electric to General Motors to Procter & Gamble are investing hundreds of millions of dollars in Africa to sell products from diapers to pickup trucks. The Corporate Council on Africa appears to be a lobbying and advocacy firm representing American business with Africa; I didn’t see a member list but it boasts nearly 200 corporate partners and might point you to those in your area; note that two upcoming conferences are advertised, including the U.S.-Africa Business Summit in October in Chicago; keep an eye on the site for sponsorship and exhibitor lists that might also lead you to interested parties in your market.
Small businesses aren’t shut out, either. And while Africa is home to energy and mining giants, this Forbes article, “Solar energy: African economies’ secret weapon” suggests that alternative and renewable energy offers opportunities for small firms, too.
Last winter, a Doing Business in Africa conference was held at the White House; this web page about the conference is packed with leads, including links to programs that facilitate minority-owned businesses in commerce abroad; the report says that minority-owned companies are twice as likely (according to U.S. Census Bureau data) to export their products and services as non-minority-owned firms; I didn’t know that and if your beat includes entrepreneurs, small business or minority business, there’s an interesting nexus of story ideas. This report from the Minority Business Development Agency, “America’s key to the global marketplace,” has related information.
This publication, The Africa Report, covers politics and economy — and has tons of business-related resources on its website that may spur some story angles for you. Note its ranking of Top 500 companies – you can sort it by sector and possibly find firms that have ties to those in your region, as either suppliers or customers.
Or, talk with investment experts, brokerage firm industry analysts and mutual fund companies — where might Africa-centric funds or other investments fit into an average American’s retirement portfolio? The Economist recently called the continent “the hottest frontier” and said the capital-starved continent is ripe for investment from richer nations.
Here’s the U.S. Chamber of Commerce portal on Africa. Note the “investment climate updates” for various regions of the continent; they’re fascinating reading and might give you ideas for which local companies might see opportunities there; the report on Kenya, for example, refers to a special economic zone being established near Nairobi as East Africa’s first “techolopolis,” – a city established specifically for technology firms.
For further resources and story ideas, here’s a review of the information posted here in September 2012:
A snippet overheard on a recent TV news program was cause for pause: Over the past decade, six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies were in … Africa.
Like many Americans, I’ve been conditioned to think of the so-called dark continent as one of poverty and strife, even while intellectually aware that some areas are middle-class and even prosperous. It certainly isn’t top-of-mind as a local business angle. But as this article in The Economist points out, despite some entrenched problems, many African countries are embracing technology, producing a better-educated generation of young people and growing the incomes of their citizens.
What a fascinating trend and what a great opportunity to find your region’s ties to Africa’s growing consumer class and business arena. Here’s an excellent piece from The Atlantic, “The Next Asia is Africa,” which is chock full of important background information and leads to resources you can pursue.
The discussion primarily involves the sub-Saharan portion of Africa, excluding the Arab states in North Africa. For background, refer to the site of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, a 2000 law that “provides beneficiary countries in Sub-Saharan Africa with the most liberal access to the U.S. market available to any country or region with which we do not have a Free Trade Agreement. “ The site provides links to a number of resources including data tables and reports. And here’s a U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) backgrounder about factors affecting trade, by industry.
Finding local companies that trade with Africa will take some digging. Try state chambers of commerce and economic development units, and even the business schools at area universities. And of course, if your area is home to household-name multinational corporations, from corn flake makers to IT companies, they likely have African investments and may be aware of others from your market who do business there too.
Right now, aside from energy, tourism may be the average American’s greatest connection to Africa, so contacting tour operators and outfits like the African Business Travel Association may lead you to people who can discuss what they’re seeing from your state or market.
Imports. According to the USITC, 2011 imports from sub-Saharan Africa were more than $74 billion in 2011; here’s a breakdown by sector. Obviously energy and minerals mke up a good share of that but agricultural products, textiles and other sectors were prominent, too. The U.S. Census Bureau also has trade stats for the entire continent. And here’s a U.S. commerce department blog post about economic opportunities in Africa.
Exports. Here’s a look at sectors where the United States exports to Africa; note “transportation equipment” (likely buses, cars — here’s a 2011 USA Today article noting that Ford Motor Co. hopes to boost its Asia/Africa trade to 30 percent of global sales) is a biggie.