Ties grow stronger between China, Michigan

Posted on April 15, 2013

The economic bridge between China and Michigan grows stronger by the day as businesses of all sizes on both sides of the ocean are benefiting.

That’s music to Michigan Economic Development Corp. President and CEO Michael Finney and China’s Midwest Consul General Zhao Weiping‘s ears.

Both men are on the front lines of finding opportunities to help their homelands.

Finney is working with Gov. Rick Snyder’s blessing to aggressively tap into the world’s most populous nation.

Snyder has visited China twice since taking office. And the state opened the Michigan China Center in Shanghai in September to promote trade, tourism and cultural exchanges.

The timing couldn’t be better.

China has a booming middle class with disposable income to spend on things like cars and blue jeans with a strong preference for buying American.

Chinese tourists are also spending more than any other nation — $102 billion in 2012 — which piqued the attention of Finney.

“China’s economic growth is an opportunity for Michigan,” Finney said. “More and better jobs are created both promoting Michigan exports to China and by attracting Chinese companies to locate operations in Michigan.”

“Provided the additional $4 million the governor requested for the ‘Pure Michigan’ campaign gets through the Legislature, roughly half would be used to begin efforts to promote Michigan in Asia,” namely China, Japan and South Korea, Finney said.

China just passed Germany for third place among nations receiving Michigan exports. Michigan shipped $3.2 billion to China in 2012, up 25% from 2011. (Canada and Mexico ranked first and second, respectively.)

In addition, Michigan is one of the top 10 states for direct investment from China with more than $917 billion in capital investment.

Though prospects for growth remain strong, China is a Communist country with restrained momentary policies. It is often a difficult place for business why MEDC has been holding informational events around the state for companies.

Things are changing in China including new government leaders.

With Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang and Chinese President Xi Jinping in place, a new group of diplomats has been dispatched.

Zhao Weiping stepped into his new assignment last month when he took over the influential Midwest Consul General job covering nine states.

No sooner had Zhao been appointed, he made the trek to the Motor City to visit with two organizations — the Chinese Association of Greater Detroit and the Detroit Chinese Business Association.

Zhao met with Finney while at the CAGD luncheon a few weeks ago.

“Michigan is an important business partner of China,” Zhao said.

“Famous U.S. companies such as GM, Ford, Chrysler, Dow Chemicals and Whirlpool have significant investment in China and are making great profits. Meanwhile, an increasing number of Chinese companies have set foot in the land of Michigan,” he added.

With that in mind, Zhao is gearing up for his first face-to-face meeting with Snyder next month to keep the dialogue going.

Carol Cain, Detroit Free Press.