As I look back on the 10 days I just spent in Asia with a delegation from the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Arizona Technology Council, I’m more bullish about the prospects for a peaceful, prosperous world. I am also invigorated by the strength of the concept of the American dream.
We visited three cities (Shanghai, Chengdu and Shenzhen) with populations exceeding our largest city, New York City; Shanghai has more than twice the population of the Big Apple. One, Shenzhen, has gone from a fishing town of thousands in 1980 to a city with about 14 million people today.
The infrastructure is gleaming. The streets were bustling with a level of commerce that hearkens back to a pre-recession U.S. The level of high-priced designer commodities — from cars to clothes to handbags — was extraordinary. Every corner in Shanghai seemed to be crawling with exclusive stores and luxury cars. The major cities all feel Western and are safe and comfortable with a palpable can-do feel.
With the increase in wealth has come rapid inflation. At one factory we visited, wages have increased about three times in the last few years. The pressure on wages seems universal if you are doing business in China.
We had a chance to visit the Chinese operations of Arizona companies NJoy and TPI Composites. Touring their operations was a lesson that trade with China is not a zero-sum game: The jobs created over there result in sales, marketing and managerial opportunities over here.
Cranes are everywhere in the cities. As many have commented, including my colleague Arizona Technology Council CEO Steve Zylstra, the crane must be the national bird.
The groups we visited with were impressed that Gov. Jan Brewer and senior officials from the Arizona Commerce Authority, including CEO Don Cardon, joined the delegation. Arizona can’t send a stronger signal that we’re ready to compete on a global scale than to have our chief executive make this important trip. The governor made clear that the trip was designed to increase export opportunities for Arizona companies and highlight Arizona as an attractive destination for Chinese investment.
The ACA made the U.S. Commercial Service’s Gold Key program available to trip participants for meetings in the three mainland cities we visited, which was critical to achieving the governor’s stated goals. The Gold Key programs cut out the difficult process of researching and pinpointing a reputable company for joint venture opportunities, and instead allow businesspeople to rely on the experience and expertise of knowledgeable trade officials on the ground. Many of our participants chose to take part in these meetings and more than one walked away with great business contacts and emerging opportunities to consider upon returning to the States.
There is still an innovation gap in China. And the service sector in China is still developing. On more than one occasion I had the urge to take over managerial duties at a restaurant where we were dining. There is a massive future opportunity for American businesses in the service side as China matures.
One Arizonan who is helping to bridge the innovation gap is ASU President Michael Crow. Dr. Crow and ASU have made real inroads in Chinese higher education. For example, Gov. Brewer’s remarks were warmly received at Sichuan University, a school with which ASU has a special relationship.
We ended our journey in Hong Kong, where east meets west. One could argue that Hong Kong is now the capital of the world. This city of 7 million combines the feeling of growth and glitter of the mainland China cities with the sophistication and elegance of the very best American and European cities. It is a visually arresting city with spectacular landscaping and some of the most impressive skyscrapers on the planet.
Hong Kong, which reunited with China in 1997, is a testament to the powers of the free market. The city has it all.
While not a scientific study, from my conversations I sensed that the majority of the most talented Chinese would welcome the chance to work and live in the United States, even though they’re well aware that our country isn’t exactly firing on all economic cylinders. In many ways, though, our two governments are already linked.
Not only is China our number two overall trade partner, representing over 13 percent of total U.S. trade, and Arizona’s number three export market, but China is the number one foreign holder of U.S. debt. Like it or not, we’re in business together.
But even in one of the fastest-booming places in the world with a sizzling economy, there remains this powerful, majestic allure to live in the City on the Hill.
If we could get our immigration policies straightened out, the U.S. would have a renewable resource of the most talented people in the world. It is economically tragic that we fail to take advantage of our biggest advantage, which is that the best and the brightest and hardest working people on Earth want to live in our country.
We have a responsibility to repair the United States so not only our children will enjoy the American dream, but so all of our friends abroad can continue to dream of one day living the American dream as well.
• Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry