WisBusiness: Biz leaders lobby for follow-up trip to China
Doyle's ready to go back, but delegation may go without him
By Joanne M. Haas
MADISON -- Kailas J. Rao, a Milwaukee-based consultant who has created banking, computer and telecommunications companies, said he thinks every Wisconsin chief executive officer should schedule a trip to China.
"Everyone should go and visit China. It opens your eyes," said Rao, who was among the 80-member Wisconsin trade delegation that toured China in late March. "What tremendous progress China has made in a very short period of time.
"There is a lot of potential," said Rao, a native of India -- a country some business experts couple with Russia as being the next two trade hot spots for American interests.
This was Rao's second trip to China. The first trip, he said, should be used to build an awareness -- "like you're planting a seed." The second trip is to evaluate, analyze and plan. The third trip is to conclude a business opportunity exists, but, he cautioned, great care must be taken to move one step at a time.
Paul Hsiu, of Hsiu Ginseng Enterprises of Wausau, agreed. A native of China and no stranger to Wisconsin trade missions, Hsiu said it is worth everyone's time to envision a world in 20 to 30 years where there will be two main markets -- China and the United States.
Some estimates show China's middle class -- about 100 million of its 1.3 billion total population -- will swell to 500 million people in about 15 years. Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, who led what is considered the state's largest trade mission, said it is his goal to make sure Wisconsin products are among those being purchased by that growing middle class.
"China is going to be a huge market for Wisconsin's products in the future," he said.
The business development trip led by Doyle ran from March 19-30, and included stops in Shanghai, Nanjing, Beijing and Hong Kong.
Like Rao, Hsiu said it is important to return to the country to nurture relationships as the Chinese people prefer. Hsiu also is urging the state to consider focusing on just a few countries to build trade relationships versus scheduling visits to numerous countries.
Rao agrees, adding the Chinese are more deliberate in their dealings, versus the speed on which Americans seem to thrive. "They do business by relationship, not by contract agreement," Rao said.
Hsiu said he participated in the state's 1981 trade trip to China, but it wasn't until 1986 that he was able to establish a business relationship with the country.
Roughly 20 members of the delegation gathered late Monday on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, in the Pyle Center, for a roundtable discussion about the successes, problems and follow-up business delegates have enjoyed or not been able to secure since returning from the trip about three months ago.
During the forum before the governor arrived, some delegation members said any return missions also be headed by the governor since such a high-ranking official can open doors a lower official -- such as the secretary of commerce -- could not maneuver. Others said it depended upon the business. If a business was seeking government contracts, having the governor along would be seen as key. But if a business is dealing in another area, having the governor is an honor but not necessary.
Sen. Robert Jauch, D-Poplar, also participated in the China mission, and said he thinks the trip helped build an awareness statewide and prompted more global thinking.
"There is a fascination about China. But there is also a awareness that if you can deal with China, then you can deal with Canada," Jauch said, adding building relationships with other countries could fit into an export strategy.
Jauch said he also picked up on a genuine appreciation from communities statewide that there was an effort to build a relationship with China, as well as a strong tie between China and the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. "In China, they understood our value system and our commitment to the same values they have -- and that's education," Jauch said.
Jauch said it does make sense to have the governor lead a return trip, but it also makes "a lot of sense for the secretary (of commerce) to lead a delegation back to Shanghai and Beijing." Jauch predicts the Chinese would be even warmer because "we came back a second time."
Some businesses have secured deals while others have had follow-up contacts and even a couple are planning their own return trips. Others suggested future trade trips recognize the different needs of smaller businesses versus larger operations. And there were reports of efforts made to encourage reverse investing in Wisconsin.
Doyle told the group he, too, is certain the trip elevated the awareness of Wisconsin in China. Citing a recent column by Washington Post reporter David Broder on assignment in Shanghai, Doyle told the group Broder quoted a high-ranking Chinese official who was described as a "personal friend of the govenor of Wisconsin" who was bringing 20 people to study at the UW-Madison. "It is a place where long-term relationships matter. And it takes time," Doyle said. "I'm about ready to go back. It was such a great opportunity."
He later told reporters he wasn't sure how many trips he could handle while juggling his duties as governor. "I've got to be pretty careful and selective about where I go," Doyle said.
China is lagging in insurance and financial services, the governor said, and Wisconsin's strengths in these areas can be developed abroad. Doyle predicts as Wisconsin's high-end manufacturing and agricultural sectors continue to grow, they will find "tremendous opportunities" in China.
Doyle said the Chinese officials stressed they were serious about seeking trade balance, meaning they have to receive more products from the United States -- and a good share of that will come from Wisconsin.
"There is great change going on in China," Doyle said, adding there appears to be commitment to improving the situations in a lot of area, particularly government. "And there really is room for such great friendships between Wisconsin and China."