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Pa. groups hope to strengthen China ties

China’s economic story is no longer simply a tale of siphoning manufacturing jobs out of the United States.

While it’s a fact that many of the heavy-manufacturing jobs that once defined the American Rust Belt have moved to lower-wage locales in Asia and elsewhere, China is increasingly an export market for U.S. companies.

Pennsylvania companies sold nearly $1.3 billion in goods and services to China in 2006 — a 35 percent increase from the previous year, according to figures compiled by the U.S. Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration. The commonwealth’s exports to China grew nearly twice as fast as its exports to all other nations combined.

“China is one of those countries that you can’t ignore anymore. It is a major player on the global scene,” Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato Thursday told a panel of business leaders discussing growing binational trade. “They’re a key player in our economy. Our companies are over there, are going to be there, and they employ thousands of people in southwestern Pennsylvania.”

Onorato will join a week-long trade mission to Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin next month to help forge business connections among Chinese officials and regional enterprises. Registration is open until March 16. Organizers at the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance anticipate about 25 community and business leaders will participate in the April 13-21 trip. The Pennsylvania Office of International Business Development and the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh are supporting the effort, part of a multi-year strategy by the alliance to increase exports from Pittsburgh to China.

With a surging middle class and rapidly developing economy, China is hungry for goods and services dealing with energy, infrastructure and environmental technologies, organizers say.

Among the splashiest local deals with Beijing was the December award to Westinghouse Electric Co., of a $5.3 billion contract to build four nuclear power plants near China’s eastern coast. Increased demand for nuclear energy abroad and in the United States has Westinghouse planning on hiring at least 1,000 high-paid engineers to work in Western Pennsylvania over the next several years.

Persistence and flexibility are key for outsiders trying to do business in China, several veterans of the process said Thursday. North Hills-based Penn Speciality Chemicals in December opened a factory in the far northeastern province of Heilongjiang to process corn cobs into the industrial solvent furfural, said James Kasper, Penn’s vice president of global sales.

But that success happened after an unplanned relocation from a neighboring province due to a clash between local and central government interpretation of environmental regulations.

Relationships with local officials can often prove more important that contacts with distant officials in Beijing, participants said. Advance planning and research are also vital, said Louis B. Schwartz, a Squirrel Hill-based consultant and lawyer who specializes in China. But so is putting one’s feet on the ground and retooling plans if needed.

“There’s no substitute for showing up,” Schwartz said.

Cost to participate in the mission is $2,350, which includes prearranged one-on-one meetings between participants and would-be customers or partners, as well as ground transportation and meals. Participants must pay their own air fare and lodging costs.

Additional Information:

Details

Some Pittsburgh-area companies doing business with China:

AlcoaAcusis AnsysAribaBayerCalgon CarbonH.J. HeinzKennametalMine Safety AppliancesManagement Science AssociatesPenn Specialty Chemicals PPG IndustriesRespironics

Source: Allegheny Conference on Community Development


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