Last month’s trip to China had state Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, trying to normalize his sleeping habits, but he was very alert about the future of Georgia-Chinese business relations.
“We closed the deal with one manufacturer and initiated other conversations that will develop and grow,” he said during an interview last week.
Miller was one of about 30 Georgia delegates who met with Chinese business leaders as part of a July 20-28 trade mission trip sponsored by Delta Air Lines’ inaugural Atlanta-to-Shanghai flight.
The agenda included four prospect meetings, a reception to celebrate the direct flight and a formal agreement signing between Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Shanghai Airport Authority.
Also, there was “briefings and roundtable discussions with the U.S. Commercial Service and the American Chamber of Commerce, trade/export meetings and relationship-building meetings with Chinese government leaders and trade representatives,” said Stefanie Paupeck Harper, spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Economic Development,
“I was very impressed with the content of the conversation, with the quality of the companies that requested and sought to have a meeting with the state of Georgia, and the scope of the conversation,” Miller said Wednesday, Aug. 1, from his office at the Milton Martin Honda dealership in Gainesville.
He did say “there was limited talk about tariffs … on more than one occasion, but it was not in a combative tone.”
“The business of economic development is much like other businesses, in that developing relationships is key — developing the trust and the approach,” Miller said.
He said he believes Georgia has developed an environment that Georgia “welcomes and encourages foreign investment” but that it’s a gradual process of “one step at a time, walk before you run.”
International companies typically “come in and start with a very small footprint, then when they get an impression of what it’s going to be like once they get here, they re-invest,” Miller said.
He said with a laugh that, as a legislator, he was careful in what he said and did, so as not to interfere with any business deal.
It turns out that while the Georgia group was there, a Shanghai-based company announced a $30 million, 100-job investment to create a distribution center, Complete Flooring Supply, in Gordon County in Northwest Georgia.
The company’s “decision to establish its first U.S. manufacturing facility in Gordon County is a testament to Georgia’s pre-eminent position for global commerce,” Gov. Nathan Deal said at the time.
“The Georgia Department of Economic Development … was most supportive and provided us with useful information throughout the entire site selection process,” said Bin Liu, the company’s vice president of CFS. “... We firmly believe that Georgia is a great place to do business.”
Abby Turano, the state department’s deputy commissioner for international relations, told The Times that China “is a market where long-term relationships are particularly important, and Georgia has worked to maintain a presence there since 2007.”
“In that time, members of team Georgia have made dozens of visits to solidify the economic ties between us. A direct flight facilitates investment, trade and tourism, and is a strong leg up in the competitive economic development industry,” Turano said.
“We saw Delta’s new flight as a chance to put a spotlight on the opportunities here and to further encourage Chinese business to consider Georgia as a destination for business and tourism as well as a source for quality goods and services.
“The goal of this trip was to send the signal that Georgia is ready and open for business.”
Miller said that one thing helping Georgia “right out of the chute” in talks with international businesses is that the state has several “global brands,” including Coca-Cola, Delta and Home Depot.
The Chinese “were also familiar with Georgia Tech and Georgia,” he said. “It was interesting those were brands that, just like the businesses, are world-renowned.”