Little Tractor From Alabama Gets Its Shot

If all goes to plan, an Alabama company will have the first U.S. factory in Cuba in more than half a century.

Cleber LLC was founded by Horace Clemmons, a resident of Jackson County where the company is headquartered, and his business partner Saul Berenthal, expressly to do business in Cuba. The firm and its founders were featured in the November 2015 issue of Business Alabama.

Clemmons and Berenthal spent endless hours doing government paperwork and traveling to Cuba to support the creation of a factory where they could build their durable, easy-to-maintain 25-horsepower tractor that would cost less $10, 000. The tractor is similar to ones Allis-Chalmers built between 1948 and 1955 for work on 40-acre farms that were, at the time, common in the United States and are still the norm in Cuba.

The company hopes to build as many as 1, 000 small tractors a year for sale to Cuban farmers. The factory in Mariel will be situated in a special economic zone started by the Cuban government to attract foreign investment. For the first three years tractors will be built with components shipped in from the United States but the eventual plan is to manufacture the parts on the island.

Clemmons, who was born and raised near Florence, had the idea to build a tractor in Cuba that could be fixed in the field with standard, off-the-shelf parts. His partner, Berenthal, told Business Alabama that the road to doing business in Cuba was strewn with challenges. “Something changes almost every day, ” he said last year as the two prepared to attend the Havana International Fair in November.

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The two got word of their success, which had to be blessed by the Obama administration, from the U.S. Treasury Department in early February. The plant, which will represent an investment of up to $10 million, would be the first sizeable U.S. business investment on Cuban soil since Fidel Castro took power in 1959 and took over billions of dollars of U.S. corporate and private property. 

“Everybody wants to go to Cuba to sell something and that’s not what we’re trying to do. We’re looking at the problem and how do we help Cuba solve the problems that they consider are the most important problems for them to solve, ” Clemmons told The Associated Press after the decision. “It’s our belief that in the long run we both win if we do things that are beneficial to both countries.”

Berenthal, a Cuban-born semi-retired software engineer who left the country at age 16, met Clemmons when they worked at IBM in the 1970s. They previously collaborated on a software company that they sold in 1997.

Text by Dave Helms

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