Engage Cuba: Alabama leaders join push to open trade with Cuba

ABC Mobile, Ala.

By: Lee Peck

MOBILE, AL (WALA) - After more than half a century of closed trade agreements, the effort to reopen door with Cuba now includes Alabama. 

"This doesn't mean that we are endorsing some of the behaviors of Cuba, this is a strategy to create change, to create progress," said James Williams, Engage Cuba President. 

Alabama became the 9th state to join the "Engage Cuba" campaign Tuesday, a bi-partisan push to convince Congress it's time to lift the embargo.

"I'm very excited that every level of government is working together to make this happen," said Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, (D) District 39.

Like most on board, Mayor Sandy Stimpson visited the island nation back in May. 

"It's a real eye-opening experience to go down there and see the potential of what can be and really what it was maybe in it's hay day," said Stimpson. 

Because of its unique position and history with Cuba, Mobile stands to gain big when it comes exports and imports.  

"When compared to other coastal states, Mobile is closer and I think at the end of the day that is king. It has the ability to do this trade quickly, efficiently, and also has the products ready to go," said Williams.

One of those products ready to go is.poultry. Since 2000 Alabama has been able to export up to 10,000 tons of poultry a month to Cuba. 

"It's a very cumbersome process because we can't accept credit. It has to be a cash transaction... So we have to go through other foreign banks to get paid," explained Johnny Adams, CEO of Alabama Poultry & Egg Association. 

Adams says if the embargo is lifted, Alabama could easily double it's poultry exports to Cuba. 

"We produce 17-million a week here... Over a billion per year - so we are very strong. 2nd largest poultry producing state in the country," said Adams. 

When it comes to goods, services and jobs, officials believe Cuba could be the golden opportunity the state's economy needs.   

"So when we lift that embargo we can grow our businesses, and lift our economy, employ more people to work at these businesses... it's a win win," said Figures. 

"Seeing what they have already done in preparation gives me hope that when everything does open up that Mobile is going to be in the right place - hopefully at the right time," said Stimpson.

Engage Cuba is set to launch Wednesday in Mississippi and in five other states before the end of the summer.