LARGO — The Economic Development Corporation (EDC) held an information session on Aug. 15 for County Executive Rushern Baker III’s China Trade Mission Trip which will send local business owners to the China International Import Expo (CIIE) in November.
About 30 business owners in industries such as information technology, healthcare, infrastructure, and manufacturing gathered for a two hour information session led by EDC President and CEO Jim Coleman, other EDC staff and guest speakers to discuss the trip that will take place from Nov. 4 to 24.
The group will travel to Hong Kong and Shanghai with the goal of helping business owners learn how to do business with China by having business to business meetings with targeted companies, build relationships with the federal government and local municipalities, utilize resources in China and attract foreign investment to Prince George’s County.
“It’s unquestionable that China is a very large economy just by view of its population, 1.4 billion, that alone means it’s undeniable,” said EDC International Business Development Manager Maria Dorsett. “It is an economic power to be reckoned with. As such because the population is as big as it is, there is no doubt that the demand and productivity go hand in hand with that.”
The biggest draw to China this year is the CIIE. In 2017, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the first annual expo to be held this year in order to give support to trade liberalization and economic globalization and actively open the Chinese market to the world. About 100 countries will participate in the trade of high-end intelligent equipment, consumer electronics and appliances, medical equipment, and more.
Steven Han, assistant representative for the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, gave an overview of the expo and China’s desire to connect with global economies.
“We are the world largest population and China is the second largest economy,” Han said. “China has entered a new development stage where consumption keeps increasing indicating numerous potential for growth of consumption and impact.”
Baker gained interest in trade missions at the beginning of his term during a trip to India with former governor Martin O’Malley and Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett.
“County Executive Leggett had gone over there (China) three times during his administration so everybody, not just D.C., were ahead of us,” Baker said. “I walked away from there understanding China is one of the most dynamic economies and we should be on the cutting edge of that.”
Since then, Baker has taken business owners on three trade mission trips to China and wants to end his term strong with this year’s trip.
“This is County Executive Baker’s last big finale,” said Coleman. “We wanted to end this administration with this big push of going back to China one last time for Shanghai and Hong Kong. It’s part of his overall mission to just connect our businesses with the world, thereby helping to bring revenue for our local companies but more so to help create more jobs.”
Maria Scott, who works in assisted living and healthcare, went last year’s mission trip to China and said that it was “a wonderful experience.” She spoke to the group about her experience and the importance of developing relationships with foreign investors.
“They’re not just as quick to cut a deal,” she said. “In my industry, I have to really study a little more to find out what will be the best niche because, of course, they have wonderful assisted living facilities but in certain aspects, as you’re looking at the different areas, the low-income, higher-income, you have to find what is your niche for a service.”
Yvonne River works in business coaching and entrepreneur training and although she has never gone on the EDC’s China Mission Trip, she has done business in South Africa and Ghana in the past and is hoping to expand her opportunities for employee training.
“I don’t know if I’ll go on this trip but I’m looking to connect internationally and develop relationships,” she said. “But I’m definitely looking to connect with global organizations and provide services.”
While the information session went over the immense benefits of doing business in China, they also touched on the potential risks associated with the endeavor.
“So many American companies are having great business making a lot of money in China,” said International Trade Specialist Will Bobseine. “The only issue is if your business is something that the Chinese government for whatever reason is very interested in, there is the chance that there are risks in the Chinese market.”
While China has strong growth in revenue and profits, a rising middle class and increased spending power, there is also the issue of rising labor costs, foreign investment restrictions, increasing protectionism, and the lack U.S.-held international property protections in China.
One of the promises Baker made during the first trip to China was to make sure that Prince George’s County has a presence there. Going forward, he hopes that the next county executive will continue the annual trips and build synergies between international businesses.
“Short term I’m hoping that we get an understanding of the culture in China and what it takes to do international business. What it takes to work with the U.S. commerce department,” Baker said. “In the long term, what I want to see happen is for these companies that go with us to be able to do work in china and for the Chinese private sector and government when they’re looking for investment in the United States that they invest in companies in Maryland and Prince George’s County.”