Building an economic bridge to China means building meaningful relationships.
That’s what SoZo Group Chief Executive Officer Ray Cheng told an audience composed primarily of elected officials and community leaders from throughout the tri-state area on Friday at the Dothan Opera House.
The informational meeting was designed to give leaders more information about the U.S.-China Manufacturing Symposium planned for Dothan in late March, but also served to dispel what Cheng called “misconceptions” about Chinese-U.S. relations.
Cheng told those gathered that the relationship between these two countries is the most important of the next century, and that the key is a mutual understanding, both culturally and economically.
“Dealing with the Chinese is complicated,” Cheng said. “We are both old and new. You can take the world’s fastest train or be stuck in traffic for four hours. Chinese businessmen are always looking for value, not a discount.”
Thomasville Mayor Sheldon Day, who helped recruit a Chinese company named Golden Dragon that now employs more than 100 people, alleviated some of the concerns echoed by smaller communities.
“You don’t have to travel to China to recruit Chinese business,” Day said. “I never traveled to China before I recruited Golden Dragon. Don’t try to be somebody you’re not. You can’t be Dothan, but Dothan can be your partner.”
Cheng said the goal of the symposium is to build sustainable relationships, allow companies on both sides to exchange ideas, create job opportunities, and bridge both business and cultural gaps.
The message appeared to resonate with many of those in attendance.
Mayors and councilmen from surrounding communities indicated they hope to leverage the symposium into job opportunities for their areas.
“We’re trying to entice business to Geneva County,” said Geneva County Commission Chairman Fred Hamic. “A lot of people (in the county) misunderstood the intentions. People think we’re trying to bring in Chinese laborers instead of employ local people. It’s an education process.”
For counties that have lost industry in recent years, the symposium represents hope.
“There’s a lot of industry that’s left our county,” said Barbour County Commission Chairman Earl Gilmore. “We’re looking to get some new industry in Barbour County, and this looks promising.”
Elba City Clerk Jack Mullinax said Friday’s meeting showed him just how deep the current economic relationship between the U.S. and China is, and it also showed him how much further that relationship is likely to go.
He said he’ll take that information back to city leaders, who will then determine whether to participate in the symposium.
Day said an open mind and an open heart can be key to attracting industry.
“At the end of the day, communities land projects,” he said. “Be yourself and be honest.”
He said Golden Dragon will likely employ 300 by the end of the year.