When it comes to courting new and expanding companies, Alabama’s business recruiters don’t have to look far for help.
They often turn to local artists, manufacturers and other makers when they want a special gift for company officials or international dignitaries, and they have plenty of options to choose from.
From delicate blown glass sculptures to creative handmade pottery, Alabama-made art has been carefully carried around the globe, as the state’s economic development team gifts it in far-flung locations.
Alabama-made products, and the people behind them, are key ambassadors for the state, said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.
“In Alabama, there is no shortage of talented people who are dedicated to their work, and much of their art and other products receive international acclaim,” Canfield said. “As we look to bring more companies and jobs to Alabama, they serve an important role by helping us tell the state’s story in a unique way.”
Other state treats also are passed around. Tucker Pecans, based in Montgomery, are a staple on trade missions to present to VIPs, said Hilda Lockhart, director of the International Trade Division at the Alabama Department of Commerce.
Products made by Fort Deposit-based Priester’s Pecans are another favorite gift of Alabama economic development team members. In addition, the company’s leadership has been active in economic development efforts in its home base of Lowndes County and supportive of the state’s overall rural development push.
“Anything made locally is always good because it allows a story to be told about the local artist and Alabama,” Lockhart said.
A recent example of gift giving happened when an Alabama delegation traveled to Tokyo in September for the 39th annual joint meeting of the Japan-U.S. Southeast Association & Southeast U.S./Japan.
Regions Financial Corp. executive John M. Turner Jr., who served as co-chair at the event, presented a piece made by Fort Payne’s Orbix Hot Glass to his counterpart at the conference, Toshiba Corp. Chairman Tadashi Okamura.
“It was perfect for highlighting our relationship with Japan,” Lockhart said of the Orbix water bowl.
During the same trip, Canfield presented Honda officials with an Orbix sculpture during a visit to the headquarters of the Tokyo-based automaker, which operates a major assembly plant in Talladega County.
The sculptures are designed by artist Cal Breed and inspired from experience in and around the whitewater of Little River Canyon, which is near the Orbix studio.
Pottery and pens
When Alabama hosted the SEUS gathering in Birmingham in 2015, one of the gifts visiting dignitaries received was a teacup made by a potter in the Black Belt.
Payne’s dishes serve as signature dinnerware at restaurants around the world.
Handmade pens have also been used as special gifts. During a 2013 visit to Japan, Gov. Robert Bentley presented Hiroyuki Ishige, CEO of the Japan External Trade Organization, with a pen made from a dogwood downed by the 2011 Tuscaloosa tornado. Columbiana artisan Phil Morris produced the pen.
Pens crafted by Birmingham’s Joel Lockridge inscribed “Made in Alabama” have also been used as gifts in economic development settings.
The recent Made in Alabama Holiday Gift Guide shows a sampling of the one-of-a-kind gifts that economic developers might use to help illustrate the creativity and ingenuity found in the state, from handcrafted iron work fashioned into kitchen utensils to colorful and fashionable organic cotton socks.
This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.