The Chinese word for “crisis” is a combination of “danger” and “opportunity.” That’s clearly how they see the current world economic situation, at least that’s how it looked during the 11 days I just spent there.
My trip took me to Beijing, Shanghai, Xian and Harbin, and included a conference on economic development in the Great Hall, a series of meetings with Chinese government and business leaders, meetings with leaders of Minnesota companies doing business there and interviews with various Chinese media.
Over and over I heard Chinese say that most periods of economic downturn are followed by periods of innovation, and they are looking for partnerships in new opporunities in innovative industries like biotech and clean energy. That was music to my ears because the goal of my trip was to use the surging Chinese economy to help create jobs here. I talked very directly to them about the opportunites to invest in these kinds of businesses in Minnesota, and used the example of Coloplast, the Danish biotech firm that bought a business in Minnesota and liked it so much they moved their entire U.S. headquarters…and 500 jobs…to north Minneapolis. Partnerships like this can be promising but they take a while to pay off. That’s why I worked on a few other areas that could deliver results faster.
*Travel, both vacations and business: The fastest way we are going to get Chinese growth to help us is to tap into their rapidly growing travel. Hospitality is a very important part of Minesota’s economy, both for companies like Carlson, and our hotels, restaurants and retail…all really suffering right now. A decade ago Minneapolis targeted travelers from Japan and now it’s our top market. Let’s do the same with China now, because the opportunity is huge. So we worked very closely with the leaders of Delta/Northwest on my visit, and met with leaders of some of China’s top travel agencies, and are customizing travel to Minnesota to meet their needs. (We heard a lot about how hard it is for Chinese travelers to get visas so talked about this with embassy officials in Shanghai.)
*Construction and Architecture: These very important parts of Minnesota’s economy are facing the toughest period in memory right now and we are going to work hard to help them get a piece of the explosive growth in China. We talked with the leader of Mortenson Constuction in China about ways to help them crack into this very complicated market. We also spent a lot of time talking to Chinese government leaders in Beijing, Shanghai and Harbin about the fact that Minnesota has some of the U.S.s’ top artchitecture talent, including firms already doing business there. (RSP, Ellerbe Becket, Leonard Parker, Cunningham Group). The officials were very interested in our design talent and I’m going to meet with representatives of our firms now that I’m back to see how we can turn those opened doors into business.
*Opening doors for Minnesota companies already doing business in China: My speech on economic development in the Great Hall was attended by a large number of Chinese goverment officials so I used a good portion introducing the Minnesota businesses who want to do more work there. I also had a meeting with the Shanghai’s Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, so I brought with me the directors of Chinese operations for Best Buy, Target, Delta/Northwest and Blue Dot furniture. I made more introductions of Minnesota businesses in meetings with the Mayor and other officials in Harbin, our sister city which has “only” a population of 9 million.
*Student exchanges: The University of Minnesota has in recent years had more Chinese students than any other American university. That’s very valuable for us because they often return home, get work in good companies or the government, and then can help open doors for Minnesota. I talked about the U in every presentation we had, and we have to keep pitching it because other American schools have caught on and are making very aggressive promotions. I also mentioned Capella University to a number of people there….this Minneapolis company educates students online around the world but they are only beginning to crack the Chinese market.
Minnesota has tremendous opportunity in China but we have to be smart and strategic about it. We have to do this work without taking our eye off the ball here at home, and we don’t have much money to spend. The key will be to take all the people with Minnesota contacts now working there, and all the people here with contacts there, and work togther on a stragegy that will bring some of this growth back home.
Those are my first impressions…I’m still have a little jetlag so sorry it’s a bit rough…but I’d love to hear your thoughts at email@example.com. (You can find pictures of my visit on my Facebook and I’m going to post another blog on the speech I gave in our sister city of Harbin.)