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Carol Cain

Carol Cain

Gov. Snyder: Building a China Plan for the Long Haul

September 13, 2013

As Gov. Rick Snyder recovers from jet lag following his trade mission to China to pitch the Great Lakes state to Asian investors, he’ll need more time to confront an even thornier issue as he works to accomplish that goal – overcoming the media’s preoccupation with Detroit’s financial woes.

During his recent trip to Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing, Snyder spent time putting a positive spin on Detroit’s bankruptcy as he explained how it would ultimately make the Motor City stronger and confront its legacy costs and financial uncertainties. However, those who have spent time in China say it will take more than one trade mission to allay those fears.

“With Detroit’s bankruptcy and all the negative about Detroit, it makes it difficult to convince the Chinese to consider Michigan,” said Jerry Xu, President of the Detroit Chinese Business Association (DCBA). Xu, who has lived in Metro Detroit for 18 years, is heading up DCBA as the organization works to promote Michigan to Chinese leaders and tourists. Xu has provided guidance to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) which does economic development on behalf of the state.

Author Carol Cain bonding with one of her many fans.

Author Carol Cain bonding with one of her many fans.

While autos and agriculture have been the sweet spots for Snyder to pitch on earlier trade missions to Asia – tourism is something new that he and his MEDC team including Michael Finney and George Zimmermann rolled out for Chinese leaders on this trip. That’s because Snyder obtained $4 million more in the state’s budget for the Pure Michigan campaign for the global stage. MEDC created a new Pure Michigan brochure in Chinese for it.

There will be much education needed to explain municipal bankruptcies including Detroit’s to the Chinese. Xu just returned from a business trip to the Asian nation where he was questioned by curious Chinese about the Motor City. “The media talks a lot about the negative side of Detroit due to the bankruptcy filing, the high unemployment rate, and most of all – our lack of confidence about our future,” he said. “Simply put, business goes where it is wanted, nurtured, and supported,” Xu said. “We have to campaign about ourselves in front of those Chinese customers and investors to counteract all the negativity about us.”

Xu applauded the governor’s trip. He said it is helping to ease the collateral damage caused by former Governor Jennifer Granholm’s refusal to visit the huge nation of 1.3 billion during her two terms in office. At the same time other states like Illinois, Ohio and California were aggressive when it came to their top elected leaders making that trek and reaping gains as a result. China is a place where leaders (often representing government and business at the same time) prefer to deal with top elected leaders on the same level. Thus, not having the top politician as part of a statewide delegation had been a shortcoming.

Snyder has worked to change that as he has visited China three times since taking office. “It helps,” said Xu of the govenor’s aggressive stance. “However, business development is not a one-night stand. We have such a bad media hype out there. There is a lot of work to do.”

Governor Snyder addressing a Chinese audience during his visit.

Governor Snyder addressing a Chinese audience during his visit.

Snyder visited Chongqing for the first time this trip which is considered the auto capital of China. CBS 62 Detroit produced a two hour Emmy winning prime time TV special as part of its “Eye On The Future” series called : “Building Bridges: From the Great Lakes To the Great Wall.” It examined the connections in business, education and tourism between Michigan and China. (To see, Part 1:, Part 2:, Part 3:, Part 4:

Chongqing was highlighted because of its automotive connections. For example, Ford Motor Company has a sprawling facility there. Numerous leaders from Michigan also appeared in the special including those from Amway, Domino’s Pizza, Chrysler, General Motors, University of Michigan and Michigan State University. Chinese officials from Chongqing , Beijing, Shanghai also appeared.

Numerous champions have continued to beat the drum to build more two-way bridges to China. “As Gov. Snyder reaches out to tap into the planet’s most populous nation, there is a world of potential for Michigan in business, education and culture,” said Tom Watkins, former state school superintendent. He has traveled and worked across China for three decades.

Watkins, who is on MEDC’s global advisory board, was instrumental in helping the state restore its “sister” relationship with Sichuan Province which was established in the 1980s by Gov. Bill Milliken but went dormant. Watkins also teamed up with Hairong Li, a professor at Michigan State University, to post the state’s “Pure Michigan” campaign on the Chinese YouTube last year. (

Besides talking up the state’s bountiful natural resources and its auto and agriculture opportunities, there will be a need to educate the Chinese about Detroit as it fights it way back to fiscal health under Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr. “In China there is no municipal bankruptcy. The central government controls everything – hence a lot of time and energy is needed to for many to realize that this is actually a good thing. That debt is being cleared and crisis can be opportunity,” added Milan Stevanovich, who heads up governmental affairs for DCBA.

Amway China Store

Stevanovich added it is important to remember that Detroit is one of 180 cities in southeast Michigan. “Detroit lost a million population in 40 years but the region has prospered to five million and for good reason,” Stevanovich said. “It’s a great place to raise a family as well as live and work.” DCBA’s is also working to help as it creates events and opportunities to showcase the region’s assets.

DCBA will hold its 18th annual International Golf Outing on Sept. 23 at TPC in Dearborn. Thirty leaders from Nantong are traveling here to take part and learn more about metro Detroit. DCBA will also hold a Motor Metropolis event in Detroit on Sept. 24 where leaders from the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy and others will talk to Chinese officials about opportunities. For more:

Clearly, Snyder and his team are steadfastly working to build a stronger foundation between China and Michigan. This effort will need constant maintenance from business as well as local and state officials if it is to continue to catch up to other states and grow stronger.

Carol Cain is an Emmy-winning journalist who is senior producer and host of CBS 62’s “Michigan Matters.” She produced/hosted the station’s “Eye on the Future” special “Bridging Michigan’s Workforce Divide.” She also writes about business and politics in Sunday’s Detroit Free Press. She can be reached at

September 12, 2013 · Filed under Carol Cain

18 responses so far ↓

  • 1 sam miller // Sep 13, 2013 at 3:40 am

    You cant put a rose on a daffodil… Detroit will continue to weigh down Detroit — in chin and across rest of the globe

  • 2 sara jones // Sep 13, 2013 at 3:47 am

    Am so glad Gov Snyder is going after that gigantic market. It can only help our state!!!

  • 3 andy sifgel // Sep 13, 2013 at 12:20 pm

    Will be interesting to see how the state’s more aggressive stance goes with other states so far ahead…..

  • 4 Mick Stevans // Sep 13, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    The more we begin creating collaborations with China on arts, culture, education and of course in business. the much better off we will be.

    Otherwise Michigan will find ourselves outside of 21st Century Global Economy….

    Kudos to the DCBA of welcoming Chinese since 1995, I bet this was not a easy thing to do for the group – especially first 15 years of their existence ..

  • 5 cindy goal // Sep 14, 2013 at 1:20 am

    I am so glad that Snyder is finally doing what needed to be done as far as China goes… I only hope it isn’t too late…

  • 6 james miller // Sep 14, 2013 at 1:27 am

    I am not certain that Michigan can make up for the lost decade of Granholm refusing to step up when it came to reaching out to China.. Sure hope Snyder is able to move the needle..

  • 7 james fuller // Sep 14, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    China is a communist country — human rights violations, monetary issues,– we need to leave it alone…
    Michigan can prosper without it..

  • 8 Taylor // Sep 14, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    Detroit Chinese Business Association (DCBA) is an powerful business champion for Detroit and the State of Michigan

  • 9 Brian // Sep 14, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    Michigan stood still for 8 years under Granholm– it is good to see Gov Nerd take action on a number of fronts.
    To pretend China does not exist– is pure foolhardy. Some other state or country will exports goods and services to them– or benefit from their foreign direct investment– why not Michigan?
    We have a front seat to leadership– watching Snyder operate.

  • 10 Jenny Miller // Sep 14, 2013 at 5:25 pm

    Keep drinking the GOP’s Kool-Aid on China… Don’t be lulled into false expectations which is what will happen here.. What does California.. Ohio and Illinois have to show for their so called attention to China? My guess, a lot of trade missions….

  • 11 Behram Hansotia // Sep 14, 2013 at 6:13 pm

    To be a world class auto manufacturer , it doesn’t matter where you manufacture, but you must have a design studio and engineering offices in the greater Detroit area. Every major auto manufacturer has these offices, from Tata motors to Mercedes. We need the brainy jobs for our world class engineering talent… And the other jobs will follow.

  • 12 Sosu Wu // Sep 15, 2013 at 2:41 am

    Wish Gov.Snyder could spend more time in China. He is champion for Michigan. Much good come from his visit.. Hope he attends again soon

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