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Ron Gifford's blog from China

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Indy Partnership CEO Ron Gifford is traveling with Gov. Mitch Daniels and a delegation of Hoosier business and community leaders on a trip to Asia through Sept. 16. Gifford is blogging about his experiences as he works to bring new jobs and investment to the economic development group's 10-county Indianapolis region. Bookmark this page and check back for updates.

You Knew It Had To Happen Sooner Or Later

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

If you ever read any of my old IBJ columns, or have had any exposure to my sense of humor, you had to know that it was only a matter of time before I went haiku on you.  After all, how could I possibly go to Japan, write a blog, and not at some point invoke the literary cliche and mangle a beautiful form of ancient poetry?

So with just a few minutes of Internet time left here before heading off to Narita, I thought I'd capture a few moments from our trip in the traditional three metrical phrases of 5, 7, and 5 moras or on (syllables, in English).


China, then Japan;
New friends, ideas, prospects.
Mission: successful.


Always moving, he
Goes from meeting to meeting:
It's my man Mitch-san.


"One in a million."
Special here, but not so much
When you're in China.


Language barriers
Can fall with patient efforts.
Translators help, too.


Eating adventures:
New tastes, smells and textures; but—
Food should not move, right?


Standing in gift shop,
calculating exchange rate.
Gotta yen for that?


Twelve days on the road.
Good reason to come home now:
No clean underwear.


We are wheels up from Narita in about 4 hours; should be on the ground in Indianapolis at 6:30 Wednesday night.  See you all then.



A Personal Reflection On This Trip to Japan

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I had my first personal experience with Japan nearly 32 years ago to the day.

I was a long-haired skinny 18-year-old from tiny New Buffalo, Michigan (pop. 2,000), the first one in my family to go to college and generally unsophisticated about world affairs.  As I checked in at the East Quad dorm reception desk to start my freshman year at the University of Michigan, I learned that my roommate, a guy named Andrew Mylnarchik, had already arrived. 

I figured the guy's parents were Polish or Slavic;  I grew up with a lot of kids like that.  So imagine my surprise when I opened the door to my room and saw a 6-foot tall Japanese guy standing there, smoking a cigarette and drinking a glass of Scotch.

Oh, Toto, we don't know where we are.  Wrong room, maybe? 

My new roommate stuck out his hand.  "Hi, I'm Andrew Mylnarchik.  I'm from Tokyo.  Pleased to meet you."

And thus began the most unlikely of friendships that brought together two young kids who were literally and figuratively worlds apart from each other. 

I shared that story with several members of our delegation last night as I introduced them to Andrew-san at the Friends of Indiana reception that Governor Daniels hosted at the conclusion of our stay here. 

Here's the quick backstory:  Andrew grew up in Tokyo.  His dad, Roy Mlynarchik, is a first-generation Russian-American; drafted into the Army from Harvard during World War II, he was stationed in Tokyo at the end of the war.  Given his Russian language skills, Mr. Mylnarchik was quickly recruited by the State Department, and served our country for 40+ years in Tokyo.  (It was good to see him again this past weekend; still sharp and engaged on geopolitical events.)

Well, as these things happen, Roy fell in love with a Japanese woman, married her and had a son, whom they named Andrew.   Andy went to St. Mary's International School in Tokyo, and when it came time to go to college, decided that U-Michigan was the right place to go.  I'm sure he never anticipated the culture shock of living with me! (Actually, I am sure, because he's told me that several times over the years.)

After graduation, Andrew moved back to Tokyo and began a distinguished career in the financial services and banking industries.  The last time we saw each other, before this weekend, was in 1987, when Andy spent a long weekend with Kathy and me in Indy.  But over the years we've stayed in touch, first by cards and letters, and then more recently with e-mail.  So this trip provided a great chance for me to meet his family and see Tokyo and surrounding areas with an excellent tour guide.  And true to our deal, Andrew refused to spill the beans when Governor Daniels and others asked him last night if he had any good dirt on me from our college years. 

I'm going to share one other story with you about Andrew that also has an Indiana connection, or more accurately stated, a Purdue connection.

But first let me tell you a fact that will become more relevant in a bit:  did you know that of all the colleges and universities in America, Purdue has one of, if not the highest number of international students enrolled in its programs?  And Indiana University has a very large number of international students as well.  Each year, thousands of bright, connected, ambitious international students spend time in our state, learning not just about their fields of study but also a little bit about Indiana, which they take back home with them. 

So I'm up at Purdue last spring, speaking to a group of upperclass students in a Krannert business school class.  I had lunch with about 20 of the students afterward, and what interested me was the fact that more than half of the students were from other countries, and particularly Asia.  One of the students asked me a "brain drain" kind of question: did I think it was a bad thing that so many of the international students were going to go back home, and not stay in Indiana. 

Not at all, I told them.  Sure, we'd love to have these smart young minds stay in Indiana, but it's also pretty naive to think that most of the international students will do that.  So I'm happy to have them spend time here before going home, for at least two reasons:  first, we're sending potential ambassadors for Indiana all over the world, and as those students become business, civic or government leaders, we will have good friends to work with in those countries.  Second, I pretty much told them the same story I shared with you at the beginning of this post; and I reflected on my own experience of having had a roommate from Tokyo, and how good it's been on many levels to have maintained that friendship. 

The lunch ended, and one of the class' graduate assistants came up to me.  "I know your old roommate," she told me incredulously.  After college she'd moved from Texas to Tokyo, and interned at a firm where Andrew worked.  "I recognized his name right away, and he's still exactly as you described him."

So just because it's a cliche doesn't mean it's not true:  it is a small world.  And my personal lesson from 32 years ago has been reinforced by the lessons we continued to learn on this trip: people who live on opposite sides of the globe, but who share similar values, goals and aspirations, can build long-lasting friendships that continue to teach us, engage us, and nurture us.

By the way, 32 years later, Andrew and I concluded that we pretty much look the same as we did as young men.  We haven't changed one bit, other than perhaps for our failing eyesight.  



Strengthening Bonds at SMC Corporation

Monday, September 14, 2009

Chances are that you've probably never heard of SMC Corporation, or if you have, you probably don't know much  about the company. So you might wonder why four of us spent half a day calling on SMC's executive leadership in Tokyo.

Let me tell you something: it was time well spent.

First, a bit of background on the company: SMC is a $6 billion enterprise; founded 50 years ago in Japan, it now has 320 subsidiaries and affiliates in 50 countries around the world. The company is the world leader in pneumatic control technology—high tech devices increasingly found in the automotive sector, medical diagnostic equipment, food processors, machine tools and thousands of other places.

While SMC has been in the Indianapolis area since the 1970's, the company broke ground three years ago in Noblesville to establish its North American headquarters, also known as the U.S. Technical Center.  The facility employs 130 engineers and numerous support personnel in an 800,000 square foot facility just off Exit 10 in Noblesville.

So that's why four of us—Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear, city Economic Development director Kevin Kelly, Theresa Kulczak of the Japan America Society of Indiana, and me—paid a courtesy call on SMC Chairman Yoshiyuki Takada, President Katsunori Maruyama, and Executive Managing Director Ikuji Usui at SMC's corporate headquarters in Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo.

Mr. Takada founded the company 50 years ago; a distinguished and soft-spoken man, he's exactly who you'd expect central casting to cast as the senior executive of a leading Japanese company. His trip to the Noblesville facility groundbreaking three years ago was his last visit to the continental U.S., although we did learn he loves to take golf vacations on Oahu. 

The meeting went great, just about as you'd expect. Mayor Ditslear did an excellent job expressing the community's appreciation for the company's presence, and offered to be of additional assistance in helping the company grow and succeed. Through an interpreter, Mr. Takada expressed the company's thanks to the community for its support. Lots of small talk, pictures, hand shakes, etc.

And then the fun part began.

Our group piled into a company van and followed the execs to Zakura, a restaurant a couple miles away. Relieved of our shoes, we were ushered into a private tatami mat room to sit around the low table (fortunately, a leg well below the table meant we didn't have to sit cross-legged for two hours).

"Would you like Western-style food or traditional Japanese fare?" Takada-san asked.

Traditional Japanese style, we quickly replied. "How about a beer?" they asked.  Ah, yes: beer, the universal language. Didn't want to be rude and make our guests drink alone, so of course we said yes.

And then the first dish appeared. The barbeque sauce nicely highlighted the rings of the octopus tentacles as they sat on the plates before us. For just a moment, I wondered if we might not have overstated our zeal for an authentic Japanese dining experience. But what the heck; there was no going back now. With a silent shout of "banzai!" I dove into the octopus with gusto.   Quite tasty, it turns out; tastes nothing at all like chicken, but was nonetheless very delectable.

Next up: a course of blowfish. Yes: the fish that can kill you if prepared improperly.  Hmm.  I made a quick risk assessment: Takada-san was going to eat the same thing as the rest of us. It would be very bad for business if the restaurant injured the chairman of a major Japanese corporation during lunch. So I figured they'd be careful. Turns out I was right. And guess what: the blowfish did kind of taste like chicken.

Two hours later we'd gone through sashimi (tuna and snapper); soba noodles with raw quail egg; spiced beef and vegetables; green tea ice cream and sherbet. More importantly, we'd spent two hours getting to know the top management of a growing company that has its eyes on additional opportunities around the world, any of which might bring more benefit to our region. Sitting on a half billion dollars in cash reserves and with an eye toward bargain shopping in this economy, SMC Corporation might well become much better known in our community in the coming years.

We concluded a wonderful meal with new friends, and made our way back to the company van.  Our parting image was of the distinguished Takada-san and his executive leadership team, lined up on the sidewalk, bowing as our minivan pulled away from the curb.  When was the last time you saw an American CEO do that after a business lunch with strangers?



"Gam bei!" A Toast to China

Friday, September 11, 2009

As we pull out of Hangzhou in about an hour, and head up to Tokyo for the next phase of our trip, it seems appropriate to offer up a figurative "gam bei" to our hosts in China.

Frankly, we've all been getting pretty gam bei'd the last couple of nights.  OK, that's not as scandalous as you might have assumed.  "Gam bei" (also spelled sometimes as "gan bei") is a traditional Chinese toast given at dinners and banquets; it generally translates as "dry glass," the equivalent of "bottoms up."  To show honor or respect to your fellow diners, it is appropriate to approach them, share a personal thought, such as "good health," "to the success of our business venture," "to our friendship," or the like, and then end it with a "gam bei."  You can gam bei one on one or do a group gam bei.

What comes next can make or break the moment:  by tradition, you must drain your glass and show your colleague the empty glass.  You will lose much face if you do not succeed at this task.  Of course, you will lose much liver if you do not have a good gam bei  strategy in place, like making sure you just "coincidentally" have a small amount of alcohol in your glass at any given time.

Of course, you don't have to do the gam bei toast.  For the milquetoasters amongst us, there are other half-hearted "kiss your sister" kinds of toasts, such as sui bian ('drink as you please"), sui yi ("drink a little"), or ban bei ("drink just half the glass").   Frankly, it's just too much work to learn all that, and it's hard to give a lusty, full-throated "just drink a little from your glass" toast that really means all that much.

Well, who am I to disregard custom and risk yet another international incident?  I, along with many of my fellow delegation members, viewed it as our solemn mission to gam bei the hell out of those receptions!!  A little gam bei diplomacy can go a long, long way, plus it's a lot easier to learn than ping pong (although I don't recommend trying to play ping pong after too much gam bei). 

So as we leave China for now, I raise my glass to our wonderful hosts and new colleagues from Shanghai and Hangzhou, offer my best wishes for new understandings and friendships, and heartily say, "Gam bei!!"  Keep the drinks cold, because we'll be back soon.



A Quick Clarification On My Comments About New Deals

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Well, it's not surprising that once in a while the ambiguities of email, 12 time zones and 7500 miles of distance might create a bit of confusion.  Thankfully, we can use tools like these to be clearer.

I responded to some questions from the IBJ yesterday about our trip, and the IBJ was kind enough to cover those remarks in its IBJ Daily.  I'm a bit concerned that the first paragraph of the story conveys a broader view about our trip that I didn't intend to convey—specifically, that I didn't think people should expect to see any deals or announcements to be made at any point in our journey, including in Japan.  

Well, here's the confusion:  my mental state was focused solely on China, but my written comments might have been broader than that.  The other thing I want to be crystal clear about is that I never intended to leave the impression that I was speaking on behalf of the entire delegation or on behalf of Governor Daniels.

Here's what I meant to convey. 

The IBJ asked: What do you hope to accomplish as a result of this trip? (any tangible ROI in mind?)

Here's my reply:

We decided to invest in this trip so we could begin building relationships in those Chinese business sectors that are on the verge of making significant investments in the United States—sectors such as advanced automotive and life sciences, for example. Chinese companies will begin investing in the U.S. for one of three reasons: access to technologies and innovation; access to customer markets; and access to a better platform for global marketing (in other words, "Made in the USA" carries more brand value than "Made in China.")

In China, business opportunities are driven by "guanxi"—that is, relationships. If there's no guanxi, there's no deal. So we see this as a long-term investment. People have asked me if we're going to bring any new deals home, or have any new business announcements from this trip. As much as we wish that the world worked that way, frankly, that's just wishful thinking. Deals don't happen from one-time visits in the States, and they certainly don't happen that way in China. This is a long-term strategy, not unlike the successful strategy that the state has followed in attracting Japanese investment. Contacts originally made back in the 1980's have borne recent fruit; and we plan to cultivate long term relationships that we hope will eventually lead to a series of "overnight" successes.

Our specific strategy is to create a network of business and government contacts in these key sectors; keep those business advisors, officials and other "influencers" well-informed about the opportunities in the Indianapolis region; and invite Chinese business leaders to visit our community to experience its assets first hand.


I was just focusing on China in my answer, but in hindsight, I can see how it might have been seen as a broader comment on the trip to Japan as well.

One other thing:  I'm certainly not the spokesman for the delegation, and there might be other deals in the works that I don't know about.  We have business people from all over the state on this trip, and many of them have extensive experience in both countries.  So if it appeared that I was speaking on behalf of the whole team, I'm sorry that this confusion occurred.  I was only speaking for the Indy Partnership.

And to emphasize the point, I'm certainly not speaking for the Governor, and I'm not privy to the subjects of the private business meetings that he has scheduled in Japan.  It's worth noting that our relationship with Japan is years ahead of that with China as it relates to the cultivation and timing of new investments in the U.S.  Again, I don't have any insider info on this, but if the Governor's past trips to Japan are any guide to the future, I wouldn't be surprised at all if we saw some significant and interesting outcomes from those meetings with Japanese business leaders.

Thanks. I just wanted to clarify this post.  Hope it doesn't seem too defensive or critical of the IBJ—that's not my intent. 

One of the great things about living in the future (as we joke about in our blog title) is the chance to make things clearer, almost before they happen!

Thanks for reading.



Enjoying Hangzhou Hospitality on a Lucky Day

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

So at 8:00 o'clock this morning, the delegation boarded the bus and began the three-hour drive from Shanghai to Hangzhou. Governor Daniels called shotgun; yes, sometimes it's good to be governor. I sat next to Mayor Wayne Seybold of Marion; yes, sometimes it's good to be mayor. Anyway, I had a great conversation with the Mayor about the innovative things they're doing in his community to spur economic growth. This is his third trip to China in the past 9 months, and each time, he's following up with companies and contacts to make the case for investing in Marion. It sounds like his community has some great opportunities as a result of his hard work, and we all can benefit from Mayor Seybold's example here: be strategic, committed, and focused on the long-term. (In case you're wondering, this is an unpaid, unsolicited commercial for Mayor Seybold; I just think it's important to give credit to creative public leaders).

After sitting in Shanghai rush hour traffic for about an hour (trust me, after sitting in this stuff for two days, the traffic on I-69/I-465 each morning should be embarrassed to call itself congestion), we hit clear sailing for our next destination: Hangzhou, the capital city of Zhejiang province.

Our tour guide, a native Shanghainese, cracked us up when she referred to Hangzhou, with no sense of irony, as a small bedroom suburb of Shanghai. Small, as in only 6 million+ people living there (compared to Shanghai's 20+ million residents).

For all of its modern ways—nice charter bus, new highways—China can still surprise you with a throwback to days gone by. We stopped at a rest stop after a couple of hours for a coffee and restroom break, and just as we were about to hop off the bus to grab a snack, the tour guide reminded the women to take their own toilet paper with them. Yeah, that's right, it's BYOTP in most public toilets in China. (And now you know why pocket size Kleenexes were on the suggested packing list for the trip).

So on one hand, you have to pack your own paper for a public restroom that looked like it was channeling the 1950's. But a mere 100 meters away, running parallel to the interstate, work crews were building huge concrete pilings and supports for a high-speed rail track that will connect Shanghai and Hangzhou. So here's the question that interests me: do you think they'll have toilet paper in the bathrooms of the 265-mph bullet trains that will run on those new tracks? Who knows; maybe it's just easier to hold it when you're going that fast.

I simply can't describe all the construction activity we saw on the drive into Hangzhou. At one place, at least 20 sky cranes were lined up in a row, lifting midrise office or apartment buildings of 10-20 stories each out of the ground.

We arrived at the Hangzhou Shangri-La with just enough time to grab a bite for lunch before heading over to a special event on the hotel's grounds: the public launch of Hangzhou hybrid transit buses powered by Cummins engines.

The Hangzhou Transit Company has nearly 1,400 buses—a third of its fleet—that are powered by Cummins diesel engines. Today the company launched 50 new buses that employ hybrid technologies along side the diesel engine, that will permit fuel savings of 20% or more. Check out the Governor's website for more coverage of this event, if you're interested.

What's the Indiana connection, other than a great Indiana company doing good things on the other side of the globe? Cummins is a key partner in the "Hoosier Heavy Hybrid" initiative, working with Delphi, Duke Energy and Allison Transmission, among others, to create heavy and medium weight hybrids. You can check out a nifty little video on the program on the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership's website. Part of my focus on this trip has been talking about that initiative and many others, including a meeting tomorrow with a Chinese auto manufacturer to talk about electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles.

One last note: today was a very lucky day in China. The number 9 is considered to be a lucky number, so the date of 9/9/09 (or 09/9/9, as the Chinese might write it—year, date, month) will only be surpassed in 90 years as the luckiest date on the calendar. That made it a good day to get married in China. As far as I know, none of our delegation participated in that local custom today.



Making New Friends . . . Or Not


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

(It's 3:00 a.m. and I should be asleep; unfortunately, I think my bio-rhythms have finally figured out that I've been tricking them for the past couple days. So, as long as I'm up, I might as well tell you about my adventures in making new friends (or not) this evening. A word of caution: I'll have to cut this short if I get that phone call that Hillary Clinton warned us about.)

So, for awhile tonight, I was the most popular guy on Nanjing Road East.

It had been an awfully full day. If you've been following my tweets (I'm sure I've never used that phrase in a sentence before), you know that I bummed a ride with Governor Daniels early this morning (technically, I guess, yesterday morning as I write this) and headed over to the Shanghai World Financial Center for the second day of "Greentech: A Call to Action"—a summit on clean tech issues sponsored by the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai and others. (You can read more about that in a separate blog post I'll put up, probably sometime after I take a nap today).

I went straight from the conference to the "Friends of Indiana" reception here at the hotel. Yes, the name aptly describes the event. Folks with a connection to our great state joined our delegation for some good old fashioned gripping and grinning (for some, the connection may simply have been the open bar and good hors d'oeuvres; they were gripped and grinned at nonetheless).

Anyway, as the reception wound up, I decided I needed to do some shopping for my two daughters. While others headed out to dinner, I headed to the concierge to get a recommendation for where to shop. "Bao Da Xiang Children's Store," came the reply—a store just a short cab ride from the hotel in the midst of a shopping district. I knew this area had to be the place when I looked at the map the concierge gave me: the primary landmark marked on Nanjing Road East was "No. 1 Department Store." Hard to argue with that.

The cab ride took 10 minutes and cost 12 yuan—about two bucks US. The streets were bustling as I hopped out of the cab and walked a block over to Nanjing Road East. It's a wide pedestrian mall, with ornate historic facades interspersed with sleek modern buildings lit up like the Las Vegas strip. As I stood in the street, looking at the card from the hotel and up at the signs, it occurred to me that reading Mandarin would have been a handy talent just about then.

"You looking for something?" I looked down at the young woman who had just asked me the question while invading my personal space just a bit too much. Oh well, they told us in our trip orientation that the Chinese tended to do that. "Yeah, I'm looking for this children's store . . . ."

"Oh, you don't want to shop," she interrupted. "You should buy me coffee."

Hmmm.   No, I don't want to buy you coffee.

"How about you buy me dinner and then I help you shop."

No, I'm not buying you dinner and you're not going shopping with me.

"Why, what's wrong with you? Don't you want to be my friend?  I just want to be friends. We have good time."

Okay ... buh-bye! A few quick strides and I was about half a block away (one advantage of being 6 feet tall) when a young man grabbed my arm. "You need a new watch." Uh, no, no new watch. "How about a bag for your lady?"  No.  "You need a CD? DVD? Your shoes ugly; you need new shoes."

Nope, don't need anything; xie xie,  thanks for asking, gotta go now. And I left him in the wake of my quickening pace.

So I'm standing at a cross street, waiting to cut through the motorbikes and cabs like a contestant in a human Frogger game, when I feel another presence at my elbow. Different young woman, same spiel.   "You want to buy me coffee?"

No.

"I just want to be friends. Don't you want to be my friend? If we be friends, we have good time."

No, not happening, not interested in being your friend . . . . hey, you see those German guys over there, I bet they want to be friends. And off I go; but guess who I run into?

"Hey, mister, you need a new watch. Wow, those some ugly shoes."

THEY ARE NOT UGLY SHOES, THANK YOU VERY MUCH, AND NO, I DON'T NEED A WATCH.

"Don't have to be cranky about it." You're right; sorry. "You need CDs? DVDs? How about some shoes or cute girl?" Arrrggghhhh.

It pretty much went on like this for 4 or 5 blocks; I kept wondering, am I wearing some logo that translates as "Easy Mark" in Chinese?

Maybe the deepening scowl on my face dissuaded them from coming up to me anymore. The last young woman who wanted to be my friend kind of took the brunt of it.

"Look, lady, unless you're the CEO of a major life science research firm or the majority shareholder in an advanced technology company, no, I do not want to buy you coffee, have dinner with you, let you shop for me or be your friend. GOT IT?"

"Wow, you crazy man."

You better believe it, kiddo; go tell all your friends.

 

You Can't Eat Soup With Chopsticks . . . Very Quickly, That Is


Monday, September 7, 2009

It's the end of Day One of the Trade and Investment mission; after putting in a 14-hour day, the jet lag has started to kick in.  Thank goodness for mini bars and chocolate candies.

So here's the summary of the day's activities:

Experienced several new and interesting food dishes, some of which I can't describe more specifically than animal, vegetable or mineral.
 
Learned that you apparently cannot get Chinese food in China: sweet and sour chicken has not been served at any meal.  I wonder if these banquets have a takeout menu . . . .
 
Discovered that the ritual of offering formal toasts can get you pretty toasted if you aren't careful—and that was just at lunch.

Met incredibly interesting people at the Cummins supplier conference, the Zhejiang Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, and the Hoosier Club reception.  Significant follow up opportunities on numerous deals.
 
Spent a lot of time driving slowly through crowded Shanghai streets, watching as our bus driver defied the laws of physics to get the bus into places it should not have fit.
 
Marveled at the growing Shanghai skyline and the Chinese's seeming fascination with building the tallest building in the world.

Tomorrow, the delegation goes off to see Eli Lilly and Company's research facilities; I'm off to an all-day clean-tech conference that features the Governor as a keynote speaker.  It's being held at the Shanghai World Financial Center, supposedly the second-tallest building in the world.  I'll be connecting with companies in the renewable and alternative energy sectors, looking to spread the good word about Indiana advanced manufacturing and the Energy Systems Network. 

More on that conference and the view later.  For now, goodnight from tomorrow.



We're Now From the Future in Shanghai

Sunday, September 6, 2009

We landed in Shanghai about 3 hours ago, following a 17+ hour travel day.  As the old joke goes, no wonder my arms are tired.  We took the "Great Circle" route, which meant we flew over Alaska for part of the trip; and even though the weather was clear, I was disappointed that I couldn't see Sarah Palin's house from the plane. 

I read "The Time Traveler's Wife" on the flight from Detroit to Shanghai (and watched a couple of movies, and listened to my IPod, and slept for awhile, and walked around ... I told you, it's a long flight).  The book somehow seemed appropriate when I saw the title in the bookstore last week; I've been teasing my daughters that I was "traveling to the future," since Shanghai is 12 hours ahead of Indianapolis. 

But I think the notion is true in another sense.  China is well ahead of us on certain technologies and applications.  Take the maglev train, for example—oh, how I hope we get to take the maglev train.  It's a 20-mile line that connects the Shanghai airport and downtown; hitting top speeds of 265 mph, the trip takes 7 minutes.  We took a bus—no doubt more convenient in some ways, especially with all our luggage—but in light traffic, the trip took about 45 minutes.  I don't think we have anything close to this train in the States; I think America's only "high speed train," Amtrak's Acela line on the northeast corridor, tops out in the low 120 mph range at top speed.  That's about the speed of the high speed rail lines that folks are talking about in the Midwest. 

The size and scope of Shanghai is mind-boggling.  20 million people live here; I bet more people live in housing units along the highway we took from the airport to our hotel than in all 10 counties in the Indianapolis region combined. 

To trot out the tired cliche, the future is now in China in some of these areas.  In other places and sectors, not so much.  That means we have much to learn from each other, and the pursuit of opportunities in areas such as clean-tech technologies is just one of the things on our agenda this week.  If we build the right relationships and engage the right sectors, we really are traveling to our future on this trip.

Our mission officially kicks off in less than 10 hours—Monday morning at 8:00 a.m., with a briefing from the U.S. consulate.  From 9:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., we will be hearing presentations from Cummins and its suppliers in China, many of whom are considering U.S. investment options.  After that, we'll meet with the Zhejiang Chamber of Commerce in the afternoon, followed by an evening reception with members of the Hoosier Club of Shanghai—alumni of Indiana colleges and universities.  We have good representation from two of our premier research universities:  IU President Michael McRobbie is with us, as is Purdue's Vice Provost for Engagement, Vic Lechtenberg.  In between all of those sessions, I have a couple one-on-one meetings scheduled for the day; one with a Chinese business consultant who has worked other U.S. states on business development strategies here, and one with a Purdue alum who now runs a venture capital firm here.

A good, full day lies ahead tomorrow, and I can't wait to see what the future has in store for us!



"Marco ... Polo ... Marco ... Polo"

Friday, September 4, 2009

If you've spent any time around a swimming pool and kids, you know that inevitably you're going to start hearing "Marco ... Polo ... Marco ... Polo." You know how it goes: one kid closes her eyes while the other kids swim away, and then starts yelling "Marco" in hopes that she can blindly find her buddies as they practice water-ventriloquism while shouting "Polo."

The real Marco Polo, of course, helped introduce Europeans to central Asia and China in the late 13th and early 14th centuries. The Venetian explorer Polo spent 24 years in Asia, and the anecdotes of his adventures were catalogued in the popular book, The Travels of Marco Polo.

So what does the children's pool game have to do with the intrepid explorer and trader? I have no clue. Can't really get a definitive answer on that one (although someone in northern Indiana claims to have invented the game in the 1960's).

But here's something I do know: When you go on a business development trip to China, you really want to be more like the merchants of Venice than the kids in the pool. I suppose you could wander around the country, blindly calling out for deals, hoping to hear a lucky response that would give you something  to take home other than nice pictures of yourself at the Great Wall. But that doesn't seem to be such a good strategy.

So here's the plan as I join Governor Daniels on the state's trade and investment trip to China and Japan, starting tomorrow. In addition to attending several of the substantive meetings and networking events that the state has lined up, I'm going to be meeting separately with Chinese business leaders, investment consultants, development companies, and venture capitalists to talk about business opportunities in our region. We've done our homework and know exactly who we're going to talk to.

My goal is straightforward: target those Chinese business sectors that are on the verge of making significant investments in the United States—think automotive and life sciences, for starters—and look for opportunities to work together to establish relationships in China and Indiana. This trip is all about building "guanxi"—relationships.

I'll be blogging about my meetings, our experiences, our reactions, and whatever else seems appropriate to share. It's my first trip to Asia, which is very exciting, and I promise to avoid most  activities that could create international incidents. And as if that's not enough, I'm going to be tweeting my way through it all:  you can follow me at www.twitter.com/RDGifford.

We leave Indianapolis at 1:22 p.m. on Saturday, and after a short layover in Detroit, take to the air for 14.5 hours until we land in Shanghai at 7:00 p.m. Sunday evening (7:00 a.m. Sunday for those of you staying here).  As I told my kids, I'm going to the future. And I'm taking two suitcases, but not a single swimsuit. No pool games on this trip for me.

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  • E-address.
    I am certain that Roy Mlynarchik is a Boston Latin School Classmate of mine, and I should very much like to be in touch with him, especially by e-mail. It could be thru his son, your Classmate. Can you help ?
  • Thanks Ron for your detailed blog...I am really enjoying the read!

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  1. Really, taking someone managing the regulation of Alcohol and making himthe President of an IVY Tech regional campus. Does he have an education background?

  2. Jan, great rant. Now how about you review the report and offer rebuttal of the memo. This might be more conducive to civil discourse than a wild rant with no supporting facts. Perhaps some links to support your assertions would be helpful

  3. I've lived in Indianapolis my whole and been to the track 3 times. Once for a Brickyard, once last year on a practice day for Indy 500, and once when I was a high school student to pick up trash for community service. In the past 11 years, I would say while the IMS is a great venue, there are some upgrades that would show that it's changing with the times, just like the city is. First, take out the bleachers and put in individual seats. Kentucky Motor Speedway has individual seats and they look cool. Fix up the restrooms. Add wi-fi. Like others have suggested, look at bringing in concerts leading up to events. Don't just stick with the country music genre. Pop music would work well too I believe. This will attract more young celebrities to the Indy 500 like the kind that go to the Kentucky Derby. Work with Indy Go to increase the frequency of the bus route to the track during high end events. That way people have other options than worrying about where to park and paying for parking. Then after all of this, look at getting night lights. I think the aforementioned strategies are more necessary than night racing at this point in time.

  4. Talking about congestion ANYWHERE in Indianapolis is absolutely laughable. Sure you may have to wait in 5 minutes of traffic to travel down BR avenue during *peak* times. But that is absolutely nothing compared to actual big cities. Indy is way too suburban to have actual congestion problems. So please, never bring up "congestion" as an excuse to avoid development in Indianapolis. If anything, we could use a little more.

  5. Oh wait. Never mind.

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