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Growing Ties Between Michigan And China

By Carol Cain
CBS 62

As China leapfrogs over Germany for third place among countries where Michigan products are exported to, the effort to build two-way bridges between the huge Asian nation and the Great Lakes State continues to flourish.

Michigan exported $3.2 billion worth of goods and services to China in 2012, a 25 percent increase from 2011. (Only Canada and Mexico ranked higher). In addition, Michigan is one of the top 10 states for direct investment from China with over $917 million in capital dollars coming this way in 2012 making it one of the Top 10 states in the nation.

Gov. Rick Snyder, who has traveled twice to China, has sent a strong signal to the Chinese that Michigan is open for business and wants to develop win-win relationships that help grow jobs here at home.

State Sen. Phil Pavlov is a believer in doing more after returning from his first trip to China as part of an education and business delegation. "It's not just the fact that Michigan should be reaching out to China, but that China is strategically reaching out to Michigan because we have a lot to offer each other," said Pavlov, the Republican Senate Education Chairman. "Michigan is uniquely positioned to deliver world-class agricultural, manufacturing, and high-tech products that the Chinese want and need," he added.

Pavlov spent a week visiting three Chinese cities on a trip along with former state school superintendent Tom Watkins, Bill Cecil, a fifth grade teacher in Waverly, Beth Baker, co-founder of WAY (Widening Advancements for Youth), and others. "China represents almost 20 percent of the world's population and we must all collaborate to best prepare our young people for their future," added Baker.

Michigan's Chinese Pied Piper

Watkins, who runs TDW & Associates, a global consulting firm, led the delegation which was  privately funded and intended to develop relationships in business and education. The trip included stops in Beijing, Jilin and Xian. Watkins, who has been tor China dozens of times since 1989, was impressed with the vision of Zhao Hong Zhuan, director of  the Xian Hi-Tech Industries Development Zone (XHTZ). "He showcased how high quality international education is an important element of their economic zone plan," said Watkins. "Director Zhao understands quality education and economic development go hand-in-hand."

Watkins has been one of the state's leading champions to reach out to China. He also is a prolific writer on the issue and contributes to He is assisting Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) as an adviser and others in China in building relations in Michigan. "It is great to see the state stepping up to the plate to take its place on the global state in a vital country," said Watkins.

Indeed, with its 5,000 year history, being home to one-fifth of the world's population and having a booming middle class with money to spend on things like cars makes the nation a force to be reckoned with. One industry that has been building strong two-way connections for years is automotive.

With the Shanghai Auto Show opening this Saturday, the Detroit Three will be on hand with products and displays along with others from across the globe as the influential show.

Earlier this year, at the North American International Auto Show, the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade Automotive Committee (organizers of the Beijing, Shanghai & Guangzhou International Automobile Exhibition) teamed up with the Detroit Auto Dealers Association, which puts on the event, and held the first-ever Chinese Global Automotive Forum in Detroit.

Guangzhou Automobile Group Co. Ltd. was also an exhibitor at the Detroit show held at Cobo Center.

"China's economic growth is an opportunity for Michigan," said Michael Finney, president and CEO of MEDC. "More and better jobs are created both promoting Michigan exports to China and by attracting Chinese companies to locate operations in Michigan."

Just as Finney, who run the economic development operation of state government, has embraced a pro-active approach to China, so too his new Chinese counterpart.

The Other Side Of The Conversation:

Zhao Weiping stepped into his new assignment when he took over the influential Midwest Consul General job in February. Based in Chicago, Zhao's district includes Illinois, Michigan and seven other Midwest states.

Zhao visited the Detroit Chinese Business Association (DCBA) and the Chinese Association of Greater Detroit a few weeks ago to meet with influential leaders and members  of both organizations. "Michigan is an important business partner of China," Zhao said.

Detroit Chinese Business Association
Jerry Xu, (on left) president of the Detroit Chinese Business Association with other luminaries welcoming China's new Midwest Consult General Zhao Weiping at an event in Troy a few weeks ago. (credit: CBS 62)

While all nine states are important, Zhao said, "some states like Michigan do occupy more of my time because they have more exchanges and cooperation with China." Those working on building relations are buoyed by the increased attention. "The spirit and vision of cooperation between Gov. Snyder and his team and the new Consul General of China will become a win-win for everyone,"said DCBA President Jerry Xu.

Added Lisa Gray, president of CAGD, "I am very optimistic about the future of openness and opportunities between Michigan and China."

Carol Cain is Senior Producer and Host of the Emmy winning "Michigan Matters" that airs 11:30 a.m.  Sundays on CBS 62. You can read her columns on business and politics in Sunday's Detroit Free Press. She can be reached at

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