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Troy-based business association Automation Alley on Monday said it's planning a trade mission to Cuba in October 2016, the first step in what the group hopes to be a fruitful relationship with the country.

Noel Nevshehir, director of international business at Automation Alley, said Monday the association will take a number of small- to mid-sized businesses for a three- to four-day "exploratory" trip to Cuba. Automation Alley has gone on 24 similar trade missions with 170 total companies to Saudi Arabia, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and other nations.

"Cuba today is like an attic that hasn't been opened in 50 years," he said in an interview. "It's a huge time warp. Despite the normalization of relations, a lot of work still needs to be done, but the opportunities far outweigh the challenges."

The Obama administration in January significantly loosened restrictions on American trade and investment to the island nation, and earlier this month announced they would reopen embassies in their respective capitals.

Nevsheir said it's unclear if any businesses will be able to strike deals on this first foray into Cuba, but the opportunity is there, especially for companies in the automotive, medical, agriculture and education fields.

As part of their Cuba outreach, Automation Alley is hosting a seminar Aug. 6 to discuss doing business in Cuba. Called "Cuba: The Next Frontier," it will include case studies from companies with operations in Cuba on how to overcome the common hurdles associated with trading or investing there.

The event will focus on how foreign companies can compete with Cuban state-owned monopolies and the command structure of the country's economy.

Speakers will include Alex Lee from the U.S. Department of State and Dana McAllister, executive director of the Cuban-American Chamber of Commerce.

The cost to attend is $20 for members with pre-registration or $30 at the door. The cost for non-members is $40 with pre-registration or $50 at the door. Admission is free for foundation members, but pre-registration is required.

Pre-registration closes Aug. 4. To register, visit automationalley.com.

Automation Alley's membership includes more than 1,000 businesses, educational institutions, government entities and nonprofit organizations from Detroit and the surrounding eight-county region.

A 2014 economic impact report showed the association, since its inception in 1999, has created and supported more than 4,500 tech and manufacturing jobs, which have resulted in a $112.9 million follow-on investment, or money other firms have invested after Automation Alley invests.

mmartinez@detroitnews.com

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