Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Back Home in Indiana

On our 15-hour flight from Shanghai to Newark and finally back to Indiana, I had time to reflect on all the successes of the past week. Of course, one can only reflect so much in 15 hours, so I had some time to enjoy the appropriately light in-flight flicks He’s Just Not that into You, The A-Team and The Hangover. Romance, action and comedy, a perfect in-flight trifecta.

I found it interesting that because we were crossing the International Date Line while in flight, we actually arrived in Indiana just a few hours after we left Shanghai.  An efficient use of time don’t you think?  I wish I could use that sort of time travel more often; it would come in awfully handy trying to get to from a speech in southern Indiana to another in northern part of the state in the same day….

I digress.

The flight gave me time to think about how we used this opportunity to promote Indiana agriculture and share information that will make Indiana genuinely better. All of the delegates were excellent ambassadors for the state and delivered our message that “business grows here” with confidence and enthusiasm. Due to the relationships Indiana has established in China and the excellent business environment fostered by Governor Daniels and Lt. Governor Skillman, I’m confident that the message hit home and that Indiana agriculture can expect to see tangible benefits very soon.

It’s clear to me now that opportunities for trade and investment with China are simply beyond comparison in modern history, and that Indiana is in prime position to reap the benefits. Their middle class is growing exponentially, creating a wealthy population that craves high-quality US products. Even today, though, there are millions of wealthy individuals and enterprises in China looking for their next big investment.  Already our state has seen the benefits of these investments from furniture factories in Marion to formal partnerships on battery production, and as the #1 state in the Midwest to do business I know that these investments will continue to flow. In just one week saw genuine interest in trade and investment from meat distributors, furniture manufacturers, corn processors, grocery stores, agricultural wholesalers and too many more ag industries to name.

But now it is time to return to the farm and hug my lovely wife Amy and our three kids Jenna (6 years), Josie (4 years) and Jack (2 years).  I’ve missed them all terribly and although I was able to Skype during the trip, all of the kids seem to have grown. Can’t wait to see their faces when they open the silk PJ’s that I bought for everyone.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Authentic Cuisine and Conversation

Thursday was similar to our first day of business in Shanghai, with an Indiana Business Conference. Governor Daniels was able to make remarks, introducing business and government representatives to our state, followed by some specific meetings in breakout sessions. Agriculture shared the "Business grows here" message, celebrating our commitment and opportunities in the ag sector. There were also messages about Indiana Hardwoods (Dave Bramlage of Cole Hardwoods) and Indiana corn, soybeans, and meat (Mark Henderson Indiana Soybean Alliance, Indiana Corn Marketing Council and Indiana Corn Growers Association). Questions and discussion included non-tariff trade barriers, investment opportunities, product variety, tax structure and trade issues. We were also able to meet with the Zhejiang Department of Agriculture and the Zhejiang Department of Commerce. An additional meeting to follow up on grocery stores and supply chain discussion was scheduled for Saturday afternoon. We are looking forward to this unexpected chance to explore Chinese systems further.

Thursday night some of us went out to a nearby restaurant, authentic Chinese.  It is clear that Hangzhou has fewer residents that speak English than Shanghai. Needless to say it was an experience ordering our food (we opted to try 5 different dishes) and then know how to properly consume them. The waitress even came over to show us how to prepare one dish, that is similar to a soft taco shell with vegetable and pork inside, all assembly required. Many laughs were had by the delegates, the wait staff, and the other restaurant patrons. We had “Cat Ear” (a soup with little dumplings, not really cat), West Lake Carp (great flavor, but full of small bones), brazed pork (that went on the roll ups), asparagus, some spicy meat with peppers, and chicken that appeared to be cooked in a plastic sack.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A View of China's Opportunity and Challenge for Indiana

The morning began with a quick breakfast. My family always asks about the food in China. I must admit that I had concerns about what it may be like when we came here in June with the Lt. Governor's agriculture mission. I have been very impressed with the cuisine on both trips, even if some of the choices are an adventure. Breakfast at the hotel offers a real assortment of choices, from traditional Chinese dishes with vegetables, meats, mystery materials wrapped in a noodle, to more recognizable fair, eggs, bacon, ham, omelettes, and cereals. I usually hedge my bets for breakfast with a plate of known items (my favorite: a collection of cheeses, some dried fruit, a hard roll, and coffee) with an additional plate of "outside of the comfort zone" items, like sausages, smoked fish, fried things, and the like. Yesterday I had two fried eggs, some slice ham, and a little round thing that I think had something to do with a pumpkin. All were delicious, and I have yet to find something inedible. I especially like the juices, orange, grapefruit, watermelon, and a couple of others that I do not recognize. They place the vegetable/fruit that identifies the juice next to the pitcher on the buffet. All are fresh squeezed and I am sure it is the best orange juice I have ever had.

After breakfast and packing, I successfully connected on a Skype call to the family to tuck in the kiddos (they still are so interested in time difference, wishing me good morning when I tell them good night). Then it was nose to the grindstone, catching up on business from back home. When I went to the lobby to check out, a new opportunity to experience China was available. While most of the group is taking the bus to Hangzhou, a small group was organizing a trip on the high speed train, just recently completed. For a small fee, about 20 dollars, the high speed train would take us to our destination. I was more than willing to pay the cost to have the train experience. I write this note from the comfortable seat in the 4th car, traveling at speeds of up to 350 km/hr (around 150 mph, if the conversion table can be trusted).

The view from the train is a better look at the countryside than what has been available by the bus, with a good look at some different land use. The farm fields are very small, and the workers are many. Rice must be in harvest season, and the open station mechanized harvesters are followed by a team of support workers following behind, gathering up the bounty, that appears in sacks dropped in the field. Other workers are tending fields of other crops, with wheel barrels, hoes, and hand seethes. One worker looked like he stepped off the cover of the Led Zeppelin album. It is immediately apparent that the level of mechanization is well below what we come to expect in our country. Yesterday we saw some rice spread out in the street, a very common method of using the sun to dry the crop. Understanding this part of the culture allows for a much deeper understanding of the opportunity and challenge that China holds for Indiana companies and citizens.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Growing Partnership

After a fast 3 days in Shanghai, our delegation has made its way into friendly and familiar territory in the Zhejiang Province. Our sister-state of 23 years, Zhejiang was a gracious host to the agricultural delegation led by Lt. Governor Skillman earlier this year. On that trip our tea glasses were never empty and we were greeted by a bevy of smiling faces at every meeting, a testament to the importance of history and relationships in Chinese culture. When Governor Orr signed our sister-state agreement in 1987, he created the framework for decades of successful trade and cooperation between our two states. Especially now that the Zhejiang Province has become a center for both economic and political power in China, Indiana is indebted to Governor Orr for his foresight.

And the perks of sisterhood continue to pile up. Upon arriving at the hotel we were greeted by more smiling faces than we could count, each welcoming us to Hangzhou, the capitol of Zhejiang. We’re staying right across from the West Lake, a gorgeous body of water that draws large numbers of tourists from Shanghai every year. Surrounded by pagodas and traditional Chinese watercraft of all shapes and sizes, it’s an authentic taste of Chinese culture and history.

In the evening we were treated to a lavish banquet hosted by the Party Secretary of Zhejiang. We consumed a meal of 15 courses seated around expansive round tables at which each person was strategically placed according to his or her status. Toasts were shared as some would walk all the way around the 20-person head table, acknowledging each diner with the traditional Chinese cheer, gan bei, or bottoms up. Thankfully, even with these many friendly greetings, moderation was practiced by all and a sip of wine or a drink of water fully conveyed both appreciation and friendship. 

After gifts and business cards were exchanged we all retreated to our hotel. Our diplomatic duties finished, tomorrow begins yet another day of seeking out investors, buyers and partners for Indiana agriculture. Among the friends we have here, I don’t think the task will be too difficult.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Art of Negotiation

Last night ended at about 9pm, when I fell asleep, on hold with the internet help line. While I slept quite soundly, the sleep did not last long enough. Three am I was wide awake. At least I was not completely confused about the time or my whereabouts; I just watched some bad TV and was down to breakfast especially early.

Our US Commercial Service briefing started promptly, and could have continued all day, but sadly only stretched for about an hour. Discussion included the macro environment of China and then some specific business challenges and concerns. Topics included cost of labor, regulatory environments, banking and finance, goals and profitability of US firms. A good deal of time was spent on intellectual property rights in China, some challenges and solutions were discussed at length.

Dave Bramlage from Cole Hardwoods and I then met up with Gavin and William, two Taiwanese gentlemen that originate wood products and connect with companies that have specific needs. We met with two companies and discussed current inventories, outlook into future demand and sales, as well as distribution and current prices. I have always enjoyed the negotiation process in business, but I must say that today was a first for me. Imagine two Taiwanese gentlemen, two Hoosiers, and a Chinese business manager, all huddled around a wooden table where the tea service did not cease, nor did the exchange between buyer, intermediary/translator, and seller. Success came quickly for Cole Hardwoods with a direct sale of three containers. Conversation then turned to the need for veneer logs, a product that Dave does not carry. The constant forklift traffic outside our meeting area did not distract from the opportunity for the Indiana State Department of Agriculture to reinforce our economic development strategies of hardwoods and international trade and discovering a promising trade lead for Indiana will be another success story for this trip. I still love the excitement of the negotiation room!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Getting down to business

Our first day of work kicked off this morning with a business conference in Shanghai where potential partners with Indiana met to hear a welcome from Governor Daniels. The Governor highlighted the four industry sectors for the trip, which included life sciences, energy, vehicles, and agriculture. Each sector had a chance to meet with audience members for their area during breakout sessions in the afternoon. In the agriculture focus area, I introduced the group to Indiana agriculture with a look at how business grows in Indiana. Mark Henderson spoke about corn and soybean production and processing and Dave Bramlage spoke about Cole Hardwoods and the hardwood industry in our state. Our guests were interested and attentive and already we’ve had discussions with multiple companies about opportunities to buy Indiana products and to invest in Indiana. Of course, our job here is made easier by Governor Daniels and Lt. Governor Skillman’s deliberate actions to position Indiana as a globally open, pro-growth, pro- business state.

Between meetings this afternoon I had some time to reflect on the morning, and I’m excited to say that agriculture has an interest, influence, and presence in three of the four strategic areas represented this morning. We can easily forget how much of a role agriculture plays in our technological advancements in the science of living things and the ever-expanding world of renewable energy production. The creative, sustainable and downright revolutionary solutions agriculture offers to many of the challenges of our time is a testament to the work we do every day and have done for hundreds of years.

Our day closed with a "Friends of Indiana Reception" where company representatives, alumni from our colleges and universities, and anyone connected to Indiana could come to meet with our delegation and each other. Always a highlight of trade missions, the reception was a great opportunity to see just how far Indiana’s influence reaches. Now, with a hefty stack of business cards already amassed, it’s time to settle down and get ready for tomorrow.

Alarm Clock Wars

Our first day for meetings in China begins today, and as you could expect, I was tired from the travel day yesterday. While the bed is quite comfortable, I kept having moments where I would wake up and wonder where I was in a room that is very dark. After a moment or two, I would realize that I was in a hotel in Shanghai, and it was not yet time to awake. My biggest anxiety and fear in this process is sleeping too long, and missing the morning meeting, equivalent to Jim Furyk the golf pro who was disqualified from the Barclays this summer when he was late for the 7:30 a.m. shotgun start to the Pro-Am. He overslept when his cell-phone battery died, and that's what he uses as an alarm with no backup.The last time that I awoke, I could not find a clock but my body told me that it was certainly time to get out of bed. I fumbled through the room and grabbed my watch, and it clearly said 15 minutes until 6 am. I thought to myself that my adjustment to the new time zone was accomplished at record speed! 6 am is a little earlier than I needed to rise, but that would allow a bit more time for emails, breakfast, and the like. I hopped from bed, turned on the lights, signed into email. I tried to Skype my family, and the kids answered with a "Good night, Daddy." When Amy got on, she said she figured that I would have been asleep until much later. I told her how proud I was to have overcome the time change so quickly, feeling rested and ready to go to work early on the first day.

To my surprise and dismay, she pointed out to me that it was the middle of the day in Indiana, and was most certainly the middle of the night in Shanghai. I could not believe this report, but alas it was true. While I fumbled for my watch in the dark, apparently I failed to look at it right side up. So shortly after midnight (local time), I am fully awake to share my moment with jet lag and an analog watch.