One of the highlights of the year occurred for me when I led a delegation of elected officials from across the country on a trade mission to Mexico. I headed the delegation in my capacity as the president of the Council of State Governments. The CSG is the nation's only organization serving every elected and appointed official in all three branches of state government. Founded in 1933 on the premise that states are the best sources of insight and innovation, the CSG provides a network for state leaders to share ideas. I also was honored to lead the CSG's annual State Trends and Leadership Forum last month in Pittsburgh.
On the trip to Mexico, I was accompanied by Jim Pickens, the director of our state Department of Economic Development. Our visit reminded us that the American dream is alive and well. I spent time in places ranging from Mexico City, one of the largest cities in the world, to tiny Mexican villages. Everywhere I went, I was reminded that people around the world still look to this country as a place of great opportunity. They understand it's possible to come to the United States with little more than the clothes on your back and build a better life through hard work. They appreciate the things for which our nation stands. In many ways, these people are like our own ancestors, who came to America in search of a better life.
Since I became governor more than seven years ago, I've meet hundreds of Mexican natives who've migrated to Arkansas towns such as Danville, Decatur and De Queen. Percentagewise, Arkansas has the fastest-growing Hispanic population in the country. Arkansas industries, especially our burgeoning poultry industry, have offered jobs that often are filled by immigrants from Mexico. The rapid growth of our state's Hispanic population has led to complex social issues. Heavy migration can increase the demand for state services. But most of those who've moved to the state in recent years are hard-working people with strong family ties. They've made a contribution to our economy and revitalized parts of numerous Arkansas towns that previously were dying. I was reminded again during the trip to Mexico of how proud I am of the way the majority of Arkansans have received these Hispanic immigrants. We respect hard work in Arkansas. We respect those who want to provide a better life for their children and grandchildren. For decades, we treated our state's African-American population poorly. The Hispanic influx gives us a second chance to prove what kind of people we really are.
I looked into the eyes of rural Mexican children, and my heart was moved. These children often don't have enough to eat, don't have good clothes and don't have a dry place to sleep at night. They have little chance of ever breaking out of the cycle of poverty. I was humbled at the thought of how much Americans have. And I was reminded we can give something back by offering a helping hand to those who follow the American dream along Interstate 30 and Interstate 40 into Arkansas. I also was reminded of the global impact our small state and the companies based here have had. I was traveling with our delegation along a dusty road in the state of Hidalgo when we suddenly came upon a new Wal-Mart Supercenter. There are almost 150 Arkansas companies now exporting $250 million worth of goods annually to Mexico. Arkansas' exports to Mexico have almost tripled since before the North American Free Trade Agreement took effect in 1994. Wal-Mart entered into a joint venture with Cifra with the opening of a Sam's Club in Mexico City in 1991. Mexico became the first country in the company's international division. Wal-Mart acquired a majority position in Cifra in 1997. In February 2000, the name of the company was changed to Wal-Mart de Mexico. Wal-Mart now operates more than 600 units with annual sales of $10.1 billion. The Wal-Mart stock is the second most traded stock on the Mexican stock exchange. The Bentonville company is represented in 31 of the 36 Mexican states. Tyson Foods of Springdale, meanwhile, began operating in Mexico in 1994 through a joint venture. Tyson now processes millions of chickens and turkeys annually in the country. The company has almost 4,900 employees in Mexico and has invested more than $50 million there during the past three years.
Companies such as Wal-Mart and Tyson Foods cause Mexicans and others around the world to realize Arkansas truly is the Land of Opportunity. These companies began in small Arkansas towns and became global leaders in changing how people shop, eat and live. I also had a chance to spend time with representatives from a number of smaller Arkansas-based businesses that sell their products and services in Mexico. We're doing everything possible to expand the market for Arkansas products in other countries.
Until next week, this is Gov. Mike Huckabee.