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Comeback city Detroit a good choice for Alibaba summit

China Daily USA | Updated: 2017-06-27 10:05

My recent trip to Detroit, Michigan was thought-provoking and inspirational.

On the one hand, the Motor City seems to have clawed its way out of the shadow of bankruptcy and is regaining its vigor - the vibrancy of its bustling downtown was impressive.

On the other hand, collaborations between Detroit, the state of Michigan and China are so intertwined that a mutual dependency is pretty obvious.

I went there to attend the two-day Gateway '17 summit, which was sponsored by e-commerce giant Alibaba in order to educate America's small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and farmers on how to sell quality products to China's 300 million-strong middle class.

"In the past 30 years, USA domestic consumption was the engine of the global economy," Alibaba founder and executive chairman Jack Ma told the audience during the kick-off on June 20. "And I told people at that time, if you miss the opportunity of selling your products to the world, to the USA, to Europe, you might miss the chance.

"Today I want to tell people that if you miss the opportunity of selling your products to China, you will miss the future."

However, not many SMEs in the US have an adequate knowledge of China, or of the market and consumer demands there. From the Chicago-based tie manufacturer to the LA-headquartered cosmetics maker I met at the summit, the similarities they share in common are their lack of China-related common sense.

Marilyn Camacho, marketing director at Florida-based Zafar Projects, which specializes in family-use detergent products, said they were eager to explore opportunities in China and were gathering information made available at the summit before they finally decide how to enter.

"We are concerned about logistics and market regulations at this moment," she said.

Perhaps she should follow Michigan Governor Rick Snyder's lead - he has already conducted six trade missions to China, in order to get a well-rounded understanding of the world's second-largest economy and the most populous nation that boasts "the most sophisticated consumer needs and wants", as Alibaba described it.

Prior to his departure to China on his sixth trade mission in November 2016, Snyder told his fellow Michiganders that his eight-day trip would focus on promoting job-creating business growth and attracting Chinese investment, plus pushing the state as a tourism destination.

"We have built strong relationships in China since our first mission in 2011," he said. "We are excited to continue telling the Michigan comeback story and making the case that there is no better place in North America for Chinese companies to expand and create jobs than in Michigan.

"As Chinese travelers are now going all over the world and the United States more, this is a great opportunity to tell people about pure Michigan tourism," he said.

Snyder took Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and his delegation along on that mission - a first for featuring both the governor and the mayor of a major city together - to highlight the potential of the historically glamorous manufacturing center.

"The economic and physical landscape of Detroit is being transformed, with auto suppliers opening new facilities in the city and the real estate market at an all-time high," Snyder said. "I look forward to working with Mayor Duggan and sharing Detroit's comeback story."

Snyder's efforts are proving visionary and starting to pay off.

The influx of Chinese direct investment into Michigan and wide-ranging cooperation throughout industries has been phenomenal.

China is now the third-largest export destination for Michigan, which on a yearly basis sells $5 billion worth of goods and products to China. China has injected $3 billion into the Michigan economy since 2000.

According to Phil Bertolini, deputy county executive in Oakland County, which is about 30 miles away from Detroit, 75 Chinese companies, half of the total Chinese enterprises operating in Michigan, have opened branches in his county, "a 50 percent increase in three short years," said Bertolini.

Alibaba "could have chosen any city to host its first conference and we are thrilled they picked Detroit," said Duggan. "This represents a great opportunity for Detroit's small business owners and entrepreneurs to have access to Alibaba's global network."

Contact the writer at junechang@chinadailyusa.com.

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