South­ern hos­pi­tal­ity used to at­tract Chi­nese in­vest­ments

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINA - By MICHAEL BAR­RIS in Dothan, Alabama michael­bar­ris@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

South­ern hos­pi­tal­ity will at­tract Chi­nese in­vest­ment to a hard-hit re­gion if par­tic­i­pants in a US-China man­u­fac­tur­ing sym­po­sium in Alabama have their way.

Some 40 com­mu­ni­ties from six states in the US South­east are rep­re­sented at the three-day sym­po­sium in Dothan, a city of about 68,000 in south­east Alabama near the Ge­or­gia and Florida borders. The re­gion has lost thou­sands of fac­tory jobs over the past two decades due to au­to­ma­tion and out­sourc­ing to cheaper off­shore la­bor mar­kets, in­clud­ing China.

Lance Hunter, CEO of Mont­gomery, Alabama-based Hodges Ware­house Lo­gis­tics, Alabama, who has a booth at the sym­po­sium, said the spec­ta­cle of the event — up to 400 Chi­nese and US busi­ness and govern­ment lead­ers gath­ered at the Dothan Civic Cen­ter for nu­mer­ous pre­sen­ta­tions, speeches on man­u­fac­tur­ing and net­work­ing — would ap­peal to Chi­nese in­vestors.

“It’s a mat­ter of re­la­tion­ships,” Hunter said. “They can see the South and Alabama are will­ing to go the ex­tra mile to help them. There’s a cer­tain friend­li­ness that we have, there’s a cer­tain pro-busi­ness at­ti­tude that we have and there’s def­i­nitely a pro-Chi­nese pro-for­eign in­vest­ment at­ti­tude that we have. And you see it with the govern­ment of­fi­cials that are here, the eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment au­thor­i­ties that are here.

“You see com­pa­nies, gov­ern­men­tal units and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment units all here to­gether, all work­ing well to­gether and will­ing to do what­ever is nec­es­sary so (Chi­nese) com­pa­nies will not be alone when they get here,” Hunter said. “Ob­vi­ously if they’re talk­ing to some­body, they may find an op­por­tu­nity for us. They key is mak­ing it easy to do busi­ness.”

The grass­roots sup­port from the states of Alabama, Florida, Arkansas, Ge­or­gia, North Carolina and South Carolina didn’t sur­prise Fran­cisco Sanchez, for­mer US un­der­sec­re­tary for in­ter­na­tional trade at the US Com­merce Depart­ment. “These states in par­tic­u­lar have a his­tory with for­eign in­vest­ment so this isn’t some ex­otic thing to them,” said Sanchez, a for­mer top mem­ber of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion who re­cently re­turned to the pri­vate sec­tor. “They have seen the ben­e­fits of at­tract­ing for­eign in­vest­ment. They know that putting a lit­tle ef­fort into this can pro­duce a lot of pos­i­tive re­sults.

“Busi­ness is kind of a com­bi­na­tion of com­pe­ti­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tion,” Sanchez said in an in­ter­view. “You have com­peti­tors but most com­pa­nies can’t suc­ceed with­out the sup­port of their sup­pli­ers, or ven­dors that help them in a lot of dif­fer­ent things. Busi­ness is a much more com­pli­cated than just one com­peti­tor against an­other. It’s usu­ally a whole team of people help­ing people to suc­ceed.”

Ning He, China’s min­is­ter of eco­nomic and commercial af­fairs, urged other states to fol­low Alabama’s ex­am­ple in of­fer­ing tax breaks and other in­cen­tives to lure for­eign in­vest­ment. “By work­ing to­gether you will see a faster de­gree of Chi­nese in­vest­ment in the United States,” He said.

Li Si Min, the vice-chief of the Xi­gang district in Dalian, praised the “twoway com­mu­ni­ca­tion” that he said helps “build a strong bridge” be­tween the two na­tions. “Chi­nese com­pa­nies used to go to other coun­tries to in­vite in­vestors to come to China,” Li said in an in­ter­view. “Now we’re see­ing that Amer­i­can lo­cal lead­ers are mak­ing the ef­fort in China.”

China, which is fac­ing a man­u­fac­tur­ing over­ca­pac­ity prob­lem, is “very in­ter­ested” in bring­ing some of that un­used power to the United States, the of­fi­cial said. “In the past, com­pa­nies used ac­qui­si­tions to start their op­er­a­tions over­seas, but now (Chi­nese) com­pa­nies that are strong enough want to open their own fac­to­ries over­seas.”

Jack Hawkins,

chan­cel­lor of Alabama’s Troy Univer­sity, closed the day by de­scrib­ing his school’s sim­ple phi­los­o­phy. “Un­der­stand­ing pre­cedes ap­pre­ci­a­tion. Ap­pre­ci­a­tion of those un­like yourself is key for re­la­tion­ship-build­ing,” he said. “We have many part­ners in China. But the most im­por­tant and the most com­mit­ted part­ners that we have al­ways re­flect strong re­la­tion­ships, per­sonal re­la­tion­ships.”

One of the “most im­por­tant lessons we can take” from the sym­po­sium, the chan­cel­lor said, is that “ab­sent those re­la­tion­ships, ab­sent that un­der­stand­ing, in­ter­na­tion­al­iza­tion will not be suc­cess­ful”. The key, he said, “is co­op­er­a­tion”.

The con­fer­ence, or­ga­nized by the City of Dotham and the Hong Kong-based SoZo eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment group, wraps up Fri­day. It comes as China moves to take ad­van­tage of the US’s lower la­bor, land, lo­gis­tics and en­ergy costs, amid ris­ing la­bor costs at home and the govern­ment’s urg­ing com­pa­nies to “go global” to gain ex­per­tise and recog­ni­tion.

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Ron­nie Chan, busi­ness­man,

Fran­cisco Sanchez,

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