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Local business leaders see upside in new U.S.-Cuba relations
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The controversial move Wednesday by the Obama administration to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba was met with approval from business leaders in Hall County who said they believe the economic benefit could be substantial for local industries.

“There are opportunities for a lot of businesses to provide goods and services in Cuba from Hall County,” said Tim Evans, vice president of economic development at the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce. “I think there’s a lot of growth for us” ahead.

The region’s poultry industry is likely to be the biggest beneficiary in thawing the Cold War conflict.

Poultry is a $15 billion industry in Georgia and includes farmers, processors and ancillary businesses. And according to the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association and National Chicken Council, in 2011 the poultry industry in Georgia Senate District 49, which covers most of Hall County, produced about $2.43 billion in economic activity, creating or supporting more than 10,000 jobs.

Abit Massey, president emeritus of the Georgia Poultry Federation, which is based in Gainesville, said about 20 percent of chicken produced and processed in Hall County is already exported to countries around the world.

“But we welcome more opportunities,” he added. “We are pleased and we think (the change in policy) will provide an opportunity for exporting more Georgia chicken.”

Evans said local manufacturing businesses can also benefit from an emerging market in Cuba because the Caribbean nation has vast amounts of aging infrastructure, meaning American engineering services will be in high demand.

Additionally, Evans said he expects Atlanta to become a hub for international business flights to Cuba as relations improve and more economic opportunities emerge.

“One of the best ways to keep peace, build good relations and build democracies is to do business, Evans said.

Meanwhile, the financial impact on Cuba is unclear, though some American businesses welcomed the prospect of expanding into a new market.

Tom Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said his organization stands “ready to assist as the Cuban people work to unleash the power of free enterprise to improve their lives.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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