Del. Governor Jack Markell: How We Can Use China’s Growth To Fuel American Jobs

For years, the story most Americans have heard about jobs and Asia has been about losing our jobs to the East.

We all know the plot: The Chinese economy is evolving at a nearly unfathomable rate, and Chinese exports seem to dominate our grocery stores and shopping malls.

But now, the plot is twisting: The Chinese growth that has long stirred fear among many Americans is increasingly opening up new opportunities for US workers and exporters.

At the National Governors Association Winter Meeting this February, I was pleased to sign an agreement with the top official from China’s Hunan Province, Secretary Zhou Qiang, to cooperate on job creation. This cooperation builds on an agreement with the China Investment Promotion Agency and a visit by Chinese businesses representatives in January. Increasing exports for Delaware companies and attracting foreign investment from around the world are important parts of the effort to improve our economy.

From the moment I wake up every day, I’m focused on jobs in Delaware. Though there’s no “magic bullet” that will create the thousands of high-quality jobs we need, Chinese companies and consumers can be part of the solution.

In fact, China’s rapidly growing consumer class is starting to flex its spending muscle. The Chinese middle class is growing, and they’re eating Delaware chicken. Our exporters shipped $361 million in goods to China in 2010, up 21 per cent over 2009—despite the recession—and up 217 per cent over 2005.

In addition, many Chinese companies are actively seeking to invest in the US market. Local investments boost local employment, regardless of country of origin. In Delaware, some of our most important employers are based in other countries, including India, the Netherlands, Russia, and the United Kingdom. These employers are global companies operating facilities around the world, and Chinese businesses are following suit.

Trade deals don’t happen by themselves. We need to work hard to turn these opportunities into real American jobs. Though diplomacy and trade policy are best led by the federal government, the daily work of trade is done by a tremendous range of businesses, large and small, across the United States and the Pacific. Where do states fit into this picture?

States—especially small ones like Delaware—are just the right size for international trade promotion. We’re big enough to bring together local businesses and reach across the ocean to market our state “brands,” but are small enough to specialize in regional industries. We’re also big enough to develop in-house trade expertise and small enough to offer personalised facilitation to foreign investors and US exporters.

And such personalised attention is needed. Grassroots trade work is not easy; doing business in a foreign market is, by definition, foreign. Libraries are filled with tales of Western companies struggling to navigate the China market, achieving wild success or outrageous losses. When Chinese managers look to invest in the US market, they hope for and fear much of the same.

It’s obvious that our political systems are different, but the differences in our legal systems, business culture, and consumer expectations have a far greater impact on companies. If we want to attract Chinese investors and local jobs, we need to welcome them, understand them, and be prepared to help them understand our expectations.

I applaud the initiatives by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the National Governors Association to promote cooperation between “subnational” (state and local) governments in China and the United States. From my work in the private sector, I know that competitiveness is fortified by cooperation. These efforts will make our country and each of our states stronger.

This post originally appeared at China Business Review.