Southern hospitality used to attract Chinese investments
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.”
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.
Ronnie Chan, businessman,