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23,000 miles, 8 days, 7 Chinese cities and 34 meetings marked the beginning of a new bridge between American South and China, as four US mayors from diverse cities in North Carolina and Alabama completed a historical trip to China from May 9th to 17th.

Their goal? -- a deeper understanding of Chinese interest in the US market and to place their communities at the top of the list for consideration for North American expansion.

“Our business relationship, prior to this trip, has been reliant about the news stories we read about each of our countries. This trip provided us the opportunity to bridge the communication gaps and to make the first steps toward developing meaningful relationships -- business and personal.” said Jill Swain, mayor of Huntersville, North Carolina.

In seven cities -- Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, Bazhong, Nanchong and Langzhong – the delegation found business leaders and government officials eager for dialogue. “The reception we received was incredible,” said Mike Schmitz, mayor of Dothan, Alabama. “Each meeting was more than a courtesy discussion. Businesses were curious about our communities and anxious to introduce their businesses to us. Some are already in the process of looking to locate in the United States. For my city, I wanted to learn as much as I could about the needs of these companies and learn how we might meet those needs.”

For one member of the delegation, Greg Norris, this was not his first trip to China. “We have been in discussions with at least one manufacturer for most of the past year. While I saw again the many opportunities for US communities like ours, I think we are making progress on reaching an agreement with at least one company to build in our community. For me, it was another meeting with someone who has become a friend.” Norris is chairman of the Monroe County, Alabama Commission.

His community hosted two Alabama China Partnership Symposium in 2012. The negotiations in which Norris is engaged are the result of his community’s initiative with those two events.

Perhaps ironically, the delegation’s first meeting in Asia was not with a Chinese official, but an American one. Francisco Sánchez, Deputy Secretary for Trade in the US Department of Commerce, kicked off the group’s ambitious agenda. Sanchez emphasized the importance of the US-China relationship, not just politically, but for the world economy. During a presentation at Hong Kong’s Asia Society, Sanchez made reference to the mayors’ efforts, calling the group’s visit both “significant” and “meaningful” in its ability to attract foreign direct investment to the United States. Sánchez offered his support for their efforts. Sánchez’s initial meeting with the mayors went well, and continued during a second day of meetings while in Hong Kong.

The mayors also listened to China’s view of the world from high level Chinese government representatives, including the former CEO of Hong Kong SAR, Hon. C.H. Tung, and a number of Chinese mayors and other local leaders, such as the deputy mayor of Nanjing Zeguang Zheng.

A number of top Chinese manufacturers also met with the delegation. Representatives from industries such as aviation, ship-building, heavy machinery, railway equipment, 3D printing, metal production and more attended several receptions hosted by the Asian Manufacturing Association (“AMA”) for the visiting mayors. SoZo worked with AMA to organize the past week’s meetings. Located in Beijing, AMA is the authoritative think tank and chamber of commerce for Chinese manufacturers.

The mayors were impressed by what they saw and heard from the companies with whom they met. “Clearly, China manufacturing is no longer to be considered only as a low cost manufacturing hub. We have seen some of the world’s most modern facilities and new technology that we would very much like to have in our community, said Sheldon Day, mayor of Thomasville, Alabama.

While this was Day’s first trip to China, he has become experienced in working with Chinese manufacturing. His city is the location for one of the largest green field investments by a Chinese manufacturer, Golden Dragon Precise Copper Tubing Group from Xinxiang. That plant will begin operations later this year. The delegation visited one of Golden Dragon’s facilities in Shanghai.

In one of the group’s stops, Langzhong, the mayors agreed to a Joint Cooperation Agreement providing a framework for further discussions, trade development, and assistance with global development. For example, the cities agreed to assist one another with further introductions to their provincial and state government leaders; to work with companies from each of the cities to utilize available statutory incentives and assistance for investment and job creation; and to provide a general introductory letter of support recognizing each other’s city, which may be used by elected officials and their business development offices, and companies within those cities, to introduce themselves to companies in both countries. Other agreements may still be reached.

The cities represented on this trip possess strong manufacturing capacity in a range of industries, including aviation, automotive, alternative energy, electronics, metal production and fabrication, and wood products. The cities also have competent work force training and experience with foreign companies.

CEO of SoZo Group Raymond Cheng said: “increasing investment between US and China is essential for a trusted and sustainable US-China relationship and both sides should engage more to build up trust and understanding.”

Organized by SoZo Group, the mayors’ trip reflects the company’s mission bridging China and US businesses, and expanding communication and understanding between the two cultures. This trip is part of SoZo’s commitment to connect the local leaders from the United States and China to pave a way for a sustainable long-lasting US-China sub- national relationship.

SoZo and AMA will host a US-China Manufacturing Symposium in the United States in November 2013. Many of the companies visited in China have already indicated their intent to attend, and the US and Chinese government leaders have expressed a desire to reconnect at the event. An initial US briefing on the event, including a further discussion on last week’s delegation visits, will be held in Washington, DC in early June.

The group logged significant miles on the trip on behalf of their communities -23,000 miles over 8 days, 7 Chinese cities and 34 separate meetings. “This was intended to be a working trip, and we exceeded our intention,” said Swain. I am confident my community benefited not only from the exposure, but also from the opportunities that presented themselves. Now it’s time to follow up.”

The mayors returned to the US on May 19th.
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