April 23, 2012
I have returned to Arkansas after leading our state’s 12-day trade mission to China. While I’m very glad to be home, I’m also glad that I went. The contacts we made there have opened doors for potential new jobs in Arkansas, and provide new destinations for Arkansas goods.
We visited eight cities on our trip throughout the world’s most populous country, including Beijing and Hong Kong. At each stop, we found heartfelt hospitality as we were welcomed by local, provincial, or national leaders. Everywhere we went, we could see the importance that personal contact and face-to-face meetings hold for the Chinese people, especially with an American governor. This is why the late Maria Haley worked so hard to convince me to go to China throughout her tenure leading the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. I’m optimistic that this trade mission will pay real dividends to Arkansas.
Our delegation met with 11 Chinese companies, spread across various fields, including alternative energy, automobile parts, telecommunications, consumer goods and heavy-equipment manufacturing. All of these companies are exploring locating operations in North America. Some we’ve had previous contact with; some have already visited Arkansas. With other Chinese companies, this was our first chance to get our foot in the door and introduce them to the many opportunities our State offers.
In addition to bringing more jobs to Arkansas, our trade mission also focused on Arkansas interests in China. In Beijing, we visited a Walmart and an Arkansas-owned car dealership. The Walmart, while similar in some ways to American stores, was structured differently to address the shopping demands and habits of Chinese customers. For instance, where an American family may shop for groceries once or twice a week, a Chinese family may buy fresh groceries once or twice a day. China is already a destination for Arkansas agriculture, and we worked diligently to maintain and strengthen those relationships, as well.
The everyday citizens we encountered on our trip were as welcoming to us as we aspire to be to those visiting us in Arkansas. While we sat on an airplane waiting to take off, an elderly Chinese woman came up to me and explained in halting English (which was still better than my Mandarin) that she recognized me from my picture in the local newspaper. When she showed me the paper and I confirmed that it was indeed a photo of me, she repeatedly welcomed me and thanked me for visiting China.
I am optimistic that we will see new jobs and investment in Arkansas as a result of this trade mission. At the same time, there is no specific timetable for when we might see new companies in our State, and I can’t say when we’ll have more concrete evidence of our success. What I can say is that it was clear during our visit that we had taken an important step. China’s rapidly increasing buying power presents new opportunities for America, and we want to make sure that Arkansas takes full advantage of those opportunities.
Southern Governors’ Association (SGA), founded in 1934, is the oldest and historically the largest of the regional governors' associations. SGA uses the power of connection, collaboration and communications in a bipartisan manner to solve regional problems, improve quality of life and secure an economically vibrant and prosperous American South.