Ashland looks to Sri Lanka for growth

By Russ Kent
News Journal


ASHLAND -- Sri Lanka appears to be just what the doctor ordered to cure what ails this city.

Devinda R. Subasinghe, Sri Lanka's ambassador to the United States, took part in a seminar at Ashland University on Tuesday.

The seminars, sponsored by the Ashland International Business Initiative, are designed to develop this area's export potential.

Economies in Ashland and other areas of north central Ohio have struggled recently. The AIBA is promoting global trade to boost economies.

Subasinghe said Sri Lanka exported about $1.7 billion dollars in goods to the United States last year. Conversely, the country imported just $1.4 million in U.S. goods.

It is that share of the market Ashland-area businesses hope to delve into.

"There are great advantages in working together," said Dr. William Benz, president of Ashland University, which had partnered with Ashland Economic Development to for the AIBA. "This is the first step. This is the first chapter in developing those partnerships."

Subasinghe discussed business opportunities for Ohioans in his country. Those include everything from agricultural products such as wheat and grains and soybeans to paper and paper board to computers, he said.

Sri Lanka needs contractors or foreign companies that can help to build water plants, roads, airports and other infrastructure.

Dr. Paul Sears, dean of the Richard E. and Sandra J. Dauch College of Business and Economics at Ashland University, joked that it would not be hard for the Ashland area to double the U.S. import totals to Sri Lanka.

Tuesday's seminar was the first in a series sponsored by the AIBA that will focus on developing new markets abroad.

Mike Greene is head of Richland Economic Development, which along with Huntington Bank, sponsored Subasinghe's visit.

Greene said he understands Sri Lanka might not be the perfect country with which north central Ohio companies can get started in the export business -- but it's a starting point.

Information from the seminars may answer a lot of questions about just that, he said.

For more information, contact Ashland Economic Development at (419) 289-3200 or visit

(419) 521-7274