By Carol Cain
As Gov. Rick Snyder continues on his 10-day trade mission to China to pitch the Great Lakes state to Asian investors and tourists, his biggest obstacle to accomplishing that goal — the media and its preoccupation with Detroit’s woes.
“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.
Xu made his comments during taping of “Michigan Matters” where he appeared with Milan Stevanovich, who is helping DCBA with community outreach. Also appearing on the show – Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, business woman Denise Ilitch, and David Cole, chairman of Auto Harvest.
Xu, who has lived in Metro Detroit for 18 years, is also working with DCBA to promote Michigan to Chinese leaders and tourists. Xu has provided guidance to Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) which does economic development on behalf of the state.
MEDC officials including Michael Finney and George Zimmermann are traveling with Snyder as he visits Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing on this 10-day Asian trip which also includes Japan.
Tourism is something that Snyder is pitching for the first time on this trip.
Snyder obtained $4 million more in the state’s budget for the Pure Michigan campaign on a global stage. MEDC created a new Pure Michigan brochure in Chinese, which they are handing out during their travels.
Xu also just returned from a business trip China, where he was questioned by curious Chinese about the Motor City’s prospects.
“The media talks a lot about negative side of Detroit due to the bankruptcy filing, the high unemployment rate, and most of all– our lack of confidence about our future,” Xu said.
“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 also applauded the governor’s trip.
He said it is helping ease the collateral damage caused by former Gov. 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 did so aggressively and reaped benefits from it.
“It will help to counteract the negativity,” Xu said. “However, business development is not one-night stand. We have such a bad media hype out there. There is a lot of work to do.”
Part of that includes educating the Chinese.
“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,” said Stevanovich.
Detroit is just one of 180 cities in southeast Michigan, he added.
“Detroit lost a million population in 40 years but the region has prospered to five million and for good reason,” Stevanovich said. “Southeast Michigan is a great place to raise a family as well as live and work.”
DCBA’s goal is to create events and opportunities that showcase and leverage all of the region’s assets.
Along that line, DCBA will hold its 18th annual International Golf Outing on Sept. 23 at TPC in Dearborn. Among those attending will be 30 leaders from Nantong, who are traveling to metro Detroit to learn more about the region.
DCBA also will 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: www.dcba.com
On the show, Patterson also talked about the impact of his campaign to convince Oakland County Schools to offer Mandarian language classes several years ago.
The idea had been suggested to him 2006 by former state school superintendent Tom Watkins who saw it as a magnet for Chinese investment.
“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 Watkins.
Watkins has traveled and worked across China for nearly three decades. He teamed up with Hairong Li, a professor at Michigan State University professor, to post Michigan’s “Pure Michigan” ad campaign on Chinese YouTube .
Watkins and Koralo Chen also produced a Michigan picture book in Chinese and English to promote the state in China.
“We have had tremendous interest from the Chinese as a result about it,” said Patterson of the school system’s Mandarin program. “I know it has made a difference in setting Oakland County apart.”
Watch Michigan Matters, Sundays at 11:30am on CBS 62!
(Carol Cain is the Emmy winning journalist who is senior producer and host of “Michigan Matters” which airs 11:30 am Sundays on CBS 62. She writes about business and politics in Sunday’s Detroit Free Press. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)