Becky Skillman’s blog from China

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Skillman Skillman

Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman is traveling to China with a delegation of state officials and business and community leaders through June 10. Skillman is blogging about their experiences as the group works to build relationships and attract Chinese investment to Indiana. Bookmark this page and check back for updates.

June 9

Our mission here in China is winding down, with just one more meeting tomorrow morning before we head back to Indiana. We had another productive day of meetings and events with groups like China Agriculture University (CAU) and Wise-Harmon, a Chinese agriculture company started by Purdue professor Bud Harmon.

But the best China-related news of the day came from back home. In Marion, Chinese furniture maker Y.K. Furniture announced the location for their U.S. headquarters, investing $24 million and hiring 100 workers beginning in October.

 Y.K. Furniture executives first met with Governor Daniels and Marion Mayor Wayne Seybold on the governor’s Asian trade mission last fall. Nine months later, the relationship that started that day matured into a major win for Grant County and all of Indiana.

 The partnerships between Indiana and China have come fast and furious in the last several weeks. Two weeks ago, the Indiana Economic Development Corporation opened its first satellite office in Zhejiang. Days later, I had the pleasure of announcing Indiana’s Sagamore Institute is partnering with Pacific World Trade to give Indiana mayors a full-time staff member to help them recruit investment from China. We’ve also seen the U.S.-China Advanced Technology Vehicle Summit in Indianapolis, and an agreement between Indiana’s EnerDel and Wanxiang, the largest auto parts producer in China. These are the fruits of our administration’s efforts to draw business from all corners of the globe to Indiana.

I’ve been asked if doing business with China is a good idea. After all, this is a communist country that is clearly a world power. I was reminded of that today, when we met with Chairman Qu of CAU. Chairman Qu is a direct appointee of the Communist Party, but despite our differing views, we’ve found common ground on the importance of agriculture to our respective countries.

China will continue to grow. It will continue importing American goods. It will continue opening offices like Y.K. Furniture in the U.S. And it will do all of this with or without Indiana.

The governor and I, however, have made a conscious decision to do all we can to ensure Hoosiers benefit from economic growth around the world, and that includes China.

I’ve enjoyed keeping you updated on this trade mission and look forward to sharing success stories down the road.

June 8 

I’ve missed Indiana quite a bit on this trade mission, particularly my husband, Steve. Steve is retired from General Motors and spends most of his days working–or playing–at a local golf course. In the evenings, we often like to relax by renting a movie. And 99 times out of 100, he isn’t upset that he doesn’t get to tag along to my business and government meetings.

But I think today might have been the exception.

It’s not a stretch to say that during the four trade missions I have been on, our overseas hosts have treated us more like movie stars than I ever expected. Crowds of photographers following us around and extravagant receptions are not uncommon, but today we got the closest taste of stardom yet.

We attended a red carpet event today celebrating the 100th movie screen in China for Stellar Cinema Group. The celebration was attended by top Chinese actors and directors, but the reason we were there was because Indiana’s own Weaver Popcorn signed a deal with Stellar to continue providing Hoosier popcorn to their theaters.

I was interviewed by a Chinese TV station, which asked about my favorite movies and stars. I had my list ready to go, but before they turned on the camera, the reporter nudged me and hinted that I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention Jackie Chan.

After Will Weaver, CEO of Weaver Popcorn, signed his business deal, we all got to place our handprints on a star that will be hung in the theater. I may never be on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but if you ever visit Beijing, you can stop by and see the handprints of many of our delegates.

Earlier in the day, we toured ENN, a global company based in China that focuses on clean energy–particularly solar power components. Steve probably didn’t miss that tour, but he could have spent time on ENN’s private golf course, “The Golden Elephant.” It was an impeccable 36-hole layout, with an 18-hole American-style course and a European-style course. Greens fees were around $300.

I guess I’m writing all this to point out we are here working on the future of Indiana agriculture. We are building relationships and striking deals that will hopefully lead to additional Hoosier jobs and investment down the road. This kind of work happens every day in Indiana. It happens so often, in fact, that Hoosiers don’t even tend to notice anymore. I don’t expect Hoosiers to roll out the red carpet for our farmers and ag scientists like the ones we met at ENN. But when you meet one, be sure to say thanks for their work and their contribution to Indiana’s economy.

And if you see my husband, tell him he hasn’t missed a thing.


June 7 

Today business cards were exchanged left and right, and new relationships were established. This is what we hoped for, and I know the connections that were built today will pay off for Hoosiers for years to come.

My meeting a couple weeks ago with Assistant Minister of Commerce Wang Chao (before I left for China) is beginning to pay off. Several days after we met, he requested a meeting for today and also invited the entire delegation for dinner. The local Indiana Economic Development Corporation staff in China was ecstatic because it is almost unheard of for a federal official to acknowledge a state delegation.

Mr. Chao and I talked about the new joint venture between Indianapolis battery maker EnerDel and Wanxiang Group, a Chinese auto-parts maker in Hangzhou. He was in Indianapolis recently for the first US-China Advanced Technology Vehicle Summit.

Indiana is leading the way in the research, development, and manufacturing of next-generation batteries and electric cars. Most exciting are the number of start-up companies in Indiana (Delco Remy, Delphi, Bright Automotive, EnerDel, Think Global and Carbon Motors) that will provide the technology for the energy efficient vehicles of tomorrow. We also continue to excel in the traditional auto industry with 2,330 new auto manufacturing jobs committed to our state last year.

Mr. Chao and I finished our meeting talking about his recent experience at the Indianapolis 500. Many of you know my passion for cars and motorsports, so today’s discussion was thrilling in many ways. It is no coincidence that Indiana is home to the Greatest Speculate in Racing and also the backbone of the auto industry.

June 5

Today was our last day in Zhejiang, but before we flew to Beijing I had a meeting with officials from the Zhejiang Academy of Social Sciences. I introduced Josh Zhao to the ZASS staff. Sagamore Institute, an Indianapolis-based public policy research group, is partnering with Pacific World Trade to have Josh in Hangzhou to assist Indiana mayors forging ties with the Province of Zhejiang.

Lately we have seen Indiana mayors and local government officials play an active role in recruiting foreign businesses to invest in our state. For instance, Marion Mayor Wayne Seybold recently visited China to attract a Chinese furniture manufacture to locate to his city and create jobs for Hoosiers. We want to continue to support our local officials and Josh will help clear some of the obstacles, like language and distance, which sometimes impede investment.

We know that companies recognize Indiana as one of the best places to do business. In 2009, Indiana won 48 competitive consolidations, where national or international companies saw the need to consolidate, then chose Indiana as the place they like to streamline operations. I’m confident the relationships we have built here in Zhejiang this week will lead to new opportunities for Hoosiers.

While in Zhejiang we have had the most gracious hosts, including Mr. Peng Bo, who never left our side. On departure they treated us to a boat tour of the beautiful West Lake, a well-known tourist destination in China.

This kind of hospitality continued as we arrived in Beijing. The staff at the hotel printed photos off my website, had them framed and placed them in my room. One of the photos was of me in my hometown of Bedford at the GM plant, where I announced with GM executives their plans to expand operations. They committed to create 245 jobs by 2013. The photo is a reminder that we will continue to work hard to entice not only international, but national companies to locate to Indiana and create jobs for our family, friends and neighbors.


June 4

I’m proud to be surrounded by a delegation full of Indiana’s best and brightest professionals as we focused on education today. One of the delegates is from Purdue University, Dr. Chuck Hibberd. No matter your location on the globe, people know Purdue’s reputation as an outstanding school. Purdue Agriculture just had a group here in China several weeks ago, and we have heard many praises of that delegation already in these few shorts weeks following.  

Our first stop was Zhejiang Academy of Agricultural Sciences. After a brief discussion with school officials, we headed off to visit the labs to view some of the research taking place. Before we could enter we had to place plastic covers over our shoes. Some of the delegates, including Bart Lomont from my office who is more than six feet tall, couldn’t get their oversized American feet into the shoe covers. Nothing ever goes exactly as planned on these visits.

As we toured these Chinese institutions of higher education, I couldn't help but think about the issue of "brain drain" facing Indiana. One of the people we lunched with today was Ben Hurst, a Hoosier who is studying in a Chinese immersion program here in Hangzhou. Ben also has a connection to Indiana agriculture. His family runs NK Hurst Bean Factory, which sits on the south side of Lucas Oil Stadium. With Ben's resume, he could certainly find a job in China or Indiana, but we hope he returns home.

Solving brain drain doesn't mean that we need to keep every born-and-raised Hoosier inside our borders forever. In fact, that type of isolation would have a net negative impact on our state. What it means is that it should be the job of state government to ensure there are excellent career opportunities in Indiana for graduating Hoosiers. No Indiana college graduate should ever have to say, "Well, I'd like to stay in Indiana, but there's just nothing here for me."

It brings to mind companies like Dow AgroSciences, which is providing high-tech life science career options for Hoosier graduates, or Medco, the new state-of-the-art center that could attract pharmacy students from Purdue and Butler. Competing against other states, Indiana won expansion deals with those companies thanks to our friendly business climate. If we can continue attracting that kind of investment, people like Ben will have a lot more reason to come back home again to Indiana.

June 3

In a country the size of China, it's amazing to think Governor Orr had the foresight 23 years ago to establish a sister-state relationship with beautiful province like Hangzhou. As we drove around West Lake (a famous freshwater lake located in historical Zhejiang), I couldn't help but note the sprawling hills and incredible number of mature trees that line the streets of Zhejiang.

Joe Kelsay from the state’s department of agriculture and I were talking this afternoon on our ride to dinner about the many similarities between Indiana and Zhejiang. Hangzhou (Indianapolis' sister city) is Zhejiang's capital and a modern marketplace. In the outlining areas of Zhejiang, you see farmers tending to their fields, ducks and fish.

Our first full day on the ground was extremely busy, but productive.  We began the day with an introduction and itinerary review with our hosts in Zhejiang Provincial Government and ended the day with a formal banquet hosted by the director-general of the Foreign Affairs Department.

Jet lag was not an option for our delegation. We did have one delegate get a little sleepy during our 15-minute break to change clothes before dinner, but fortunately after a wake-up call we were all back together and headed for a memorable 12-course meal.

I'd have to say it was the first time I've tried bamboo root soup, and it wasn't half bad! For those of you who read the blog yesterday, I'll note the bamboo roots were not imported from the Hoosier state.

I have learned over the years, including three previous trade missions, that seeking investment from companies—particularly foreign companies—is a lot closer to a marriage proposal than asking someone out on a date. These deals typically are based on mutual respect and long-term relationships, not quick decisions. The Chinese culture places great emphasis on building and maintaining these relationships. You have to show a commitment and a willingness to adapt that cannot be faked.

My official host in Hangzhou is Mr. Peng Bo from the Zhejiang FAD. He was just in my office in the Statehouse in March. And everywhere we go, we hear positive comments about Gov. Mitch Daniels' trade mission here last fall. The Indiana-Chinese relationship is certainly blossoming.  

After an action packed day (most of us still recovering from our 14-hour flight), I think it's time to sign off for now.  I'm looking forward to bragging about Purdue University’s accomplishments tomorrow as we visit several education institutions.


June 2

We arrived in China today. Over the next week and a half, a delegation of 25 Hoosiers and I will meet with prospective importers of Hoosier goods, Chinese government officials, commodity trade groups, Chinese trade associations and research universities. The action begins tomorrow, so I may as well start with our goals and a quick story.

Indiana began a relationship with China in 1987, when then-Gov. Robert Orr established a sister-state relationship with the Province of Zhejiang. Despite that relationship, the number of Hoosiers employed by Chinese companies in Indiana is only around 200. In contrast, there are 200 Japanese companies with an Indiana presence, employing 45,000 of our friends and neighbors. As you see, there is a lot of work to be done. Gov. Mitch Daniels made contact in 2009 with his trade mission to China, and we hope to expand on that.

While our agricultural exports to China have increased sevenfold since 1997, China still is our fourth-largest importer behind Canada, Mexico and Japan. With the growing population there, the relationships we build on this mission will position Hoosier farmers to provide more and more agricultural goods to China. Those exports currently support 24,000 Hoosier jobs both on and off the farm.

With those figures in mind, I’ll leave you with an anecdote about the Indiana-China connection.

I don’t mean to borrow other people’s stories, but I can think of no better example of the opportunities that exist for Hoosier producers in China. This story belongs to Jay Hein, president of Indiana’s Sagamore Institute, who helped us prepare for this trip.

Jay first visited China several years ago, and on his group's last night here he and the others wanted the full Chinese dining experience. They talked to their hotel concierge about where they could go for the best Peking Duck, a Beijing original and one of China’s national foods.

They arrived at the restaurant, ordered the duck, and began chatting up the waiter, who spoke respectable English. The waiter asked where they were from and Jay replied, “We’re from America. A state called Indiana that you may not have heard of.”

The waiter smiled. “Your duck,” he replied, “is from Indiana.”

Personally, I’m looking forward to the Chinese cuisine. But for the best China has to offer, I guess I’ll have to wait until I get back in Indiana.

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