The City of Dothan could be riding the crest of a wave of another industrial revolution, according to a person responsible for bringing a U.S.-China Manufacturing Symposium to the Circle City this fall.
Dothan will be a focal point of international trade for at least three days in November. The event will bring about 400 Chinese business owners interested in expansion into the United States. Trade and manufacturing experts, dignitaries and international media will bring the total number of visitors into Dothan at close to 1,000.
“You are looking at an absolute no-holds-barred business dialogue that could change the landscape of U.S.-China relations,” said Raymond Cheng, CEO of the SoZo Group, who helped bring the event to Dothan along with the Asian Manufacturing Association and Mayor Mike Schmitz.
“I believe that in 3-5 years, Dothan will become the example for a new level of U.S.-China relations,” Cheng added.
The Dothan event is actually a combination of two events. The Alabama city of Monroeville has previously hosted an Alabama-China Partnership Symposium. Also, Beijing, China, has hosted the Asian Manufacturing Association’s annual conference for the past six years. That conference will move to Dothan to combine with the Alabama-China Symposium Nov. 10-12.
Schmitz said the educational experience will be valuable for Dothan, but added his primary reason for pursuing the symposium was the potential to create jobs.
“When you have hundreds of business leaders who are interested in expanding their companies to the United States, and you think about us being able to show Dothan to them, the potential is enormous,” Schmitz said.
The announcement was made Friday morning at the Dothan Area Botanical Gardens. It was made in conjunction with a visit to Dothan from Jun Luo, CEO of the Asian Manufacturing Association, as well as a Chinese businessman whose company manufactures radiators and other automotive parts for Volkswagen.
Specific details of the event are still being worked out, but the purpose of the symposium is to explore the nuts and bolts of how Chinese manufacturers can take advantage of the U.S. market and how communities in the United States can attract investments from China.
Cheng said Dothan was chosen as the site for the first symposium of its type in the United States because Dothan offers the right combination of urban and rural settings.
“You would think, why not New York, right?” Cheng asked. “New York has, what, nine million people? Every city in China has nine million people. In China, villages have five million people.”
Cheng said Chinese businessmen were pleased with the location of Golden Dragon Precise Copper Tubing in Wilcox County, a rural county in West Alabama. The company has been responsible for several hundred million dollars into the area economy. It is expected to employ 500 or more.
“We found that companies like the rural setting,” said Sheldon Day, mayor of nearby Thomasville, who attended the announcement. The announcement was also attended by Greg Norris, probate judge and county commission president of Monroe County.
The manufacturing exodus of the 1990s in the United States may be turning around. Many manufacturing jobs are returning to the United States as international companies are finding it cheaper to build here and transport here, or build here and ship everywhere else.
Cheng also said Dothan appeared on the radar of Chinese manufacturers due in part to a recent trip to China by Schmitz and City Manager Mike West. Schmitz and West visited seven cities and met with several business leaders during the trip.
Schmitz said he is aware some residents would be hesitant to embrace the possibility of Chinese companies in Dothan. He said the same hesitancy existed in the 1970s when Japanese company Sony chose Dothan as a manufacturing location.
“Sony was a big hit for our community for a long time and they were wonderful corporate citizens,” Schmitz said. “And, at the time they came here, there were concerns about doing business with Japan. But, this is the important thing to think about: They are going to hire our people and invest in our community.”
The event brings what may be an unprecedented logistical challenge for Dothan. Very few members of the Chinese delegation will speak English. The influx of people will fill practically every hotel room in Dothan. Schmitz said the city plans to roll out an educational platform to prepare the city for the event. Schmitz said the plan is still being developed, but will include public forums, public service announcements, printed material and other items.
Cheng said Dothan residents can prepare for the symposium best by being themselves.
“Just be real,” Cheng said. “The genuineness and openness of the South is what we are looking for.”
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