Ann Evans, District Director for the U.S. Department of Commerce. The event was held at Beckham Hall on the campus of Wesleyan University and was billed as an opportunity to "bring China to Middletown." Approximately 140 businesspeople, professionals, and government officials spent that day in both plenary sessions on the Chinese economy and on Shandong Province (Connecticut's sister state in China), and in breakout sessions on topics like aerospace, clean energy, intellectual property, and attracting Chinese investment.
China Trade Day opened with remarks by Wesleyan's President Michael Roth, Middletown Mayor Dan Drew, Connecticut Commissioner for Economic Development Catherine Smith, and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal. Roth emphasized the many ties that existed between Wesleyan and China, highlighting the partnership that is developing between Wesleyan and the Social Sciences in China Press, which led to Roth's first visit to China last Fall and will bring a delegation of Chinese scholars to Wesleyan in Spring, 2013. Drew spoke of the opportunities for partnership and mutual gain between Connecticut and Shandong. Together with some of the business and government leaders attending yesterday's event, Mayor Drew visited Shandong in March of this year. He is currently hosting a delegation from Shandong, some members of which also spoke during the day. In conversation later in the day, Drew mentioned that he was bringing several local businesspeople, as well as some business owners he was hoping to lure to Middletown, together with the Shandong group for dinner and networking.
Both Senator Blumenthal and Landon Loomis, a commercial officer from the U.S. embassy in Beijing, emphasized the complex but deep relationship that has evolved between the U.S. and China. Blumenthal spoke both about sustaining friendship and developing trade and cultural relations, and about lingering difficulties like currency issues and intellectual property protection. Loomis sounded a theme that was central to the day: China is already a huge, and growing, export market for the U.S. Currently it is our second-largest export destination, after Canada. Ann Evans later explained to me that China is the fifth-largest market for Connecticut exports, ranging from Pratt & Whitney aircraft engines to a great variety of other goods made by small- and medium-sized companies throughout the state.
Numerous speakers emphasized the importance of and opportunities for exporting to China. Our exports to China have grown five-fold in ten years, said Loomis. Secretary of the State Denise Merrill noted that even though 2011 was difficult economic year, Connecticut had a record amount of goods and services exported, including $982 million to China. The more focused sessions in the afternoon were intended to give hands-on, practical advice for how to proceed. Another advantage offered to the prospective exporters at the event was personal help from the politicians. Personal relationships matter everywhere, but especially in China. Evans said that politicians were able to "open doors," to see that meetings happened and visits to China were successful. Even the mayor of a tiny (by Chinese standards) town like Middletown has an important role to play, she said, because "Mayor" carries real weight in China.
The Connecticut office for the U.S. Commercial Service, the division of the Commerce Department for which Evans works, is located in Middletown. Together with partners like the Small Business Administration, the Connecticut DECD, and others, Evans has organized events similar to China Trade Day on Brazil, Poland, Ghana, the E.U., and elsewhere. For anyone interested in more information or assistance concerning export initiatives, Evans can be contacted at this address.