Local officials are looking to the East for ways to jump-start the regional economy and counter unemployment.
Gov. Bev Perdue approached the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce last month about opportunities for Chinese industries to invest in the area.
“We were asked to provide material about economic development opportunities in our community,” said chamber President Aaron Nelson. “It’s an incredible opportunity.”
China represents the second largest market for North Carolina exports after Canada, but officials think the area could be an even larger market for North Carolina goods.
And Luke Treloar, executive director of the North Carolina China Center’s Beijing office, said if Chinese companies came to the state, they could employ workers and spur growth.
Perdue’s visit and conversations with local leaders weren’t the region’s first foray into Chinese relations, Nelson said.
He said Carrboro officials also met on Oct. 28 with members of the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs at Duke University.
Chinese business leaders from the program discussed the interaction between government and business with Carrboro officials.
“It talked about economic development and how government and business can work together,” Nelson said.
And members of the chamber embarked on their own trip to China in April 2010.
Thirty local business leaders took part in the trip and visited Beijing, Suzhou, Hangzhou and Shanghai.
Nelson said the trip was about cultural exchange.
“First you have to understand before you can do business,” he said.
Berkeley Grimball, owner of Grimball Jewelers in Chapel Hill, was one of the business owners who went on the trip.
“Clearly with China at the center of manufacturing and money these days, going to China was a great opportunity,” he said.
“I would say there is an opportunity for the growth of Chinese businesses here and North Carolina businesses in China.”
The chamber is planning a similar trip to China in April 2012, Nelson said.
Robin Visser, associate professor in the UNC Department of Asian Studies, said it is very important to foster relationships with China.
“Chinese businesses have amassed a huge capital reserve and can invest it in various ways in North Carolina,” she said.
Treloar agreed that drawing Chinese businesses to the area is an important opportunity.
“China is here to stay,” he said. “If we hide our head in the sands we might not ever see that opportunity coming.”
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