Tuesday, October 30, 2012

China Town Hall Meeting

Sixth Annual China
Town Hall Meeting

Sponsored by State College of Florida
Monday, Oct 29, 2012

The Sarasota-Manatee 2012 China Town Hall at the State College of Florida Lakewood Ranch campus provided a wealth of international and local information for our communities in both the local program and the wider reach of a webcast from Beijing.  

SCF was the local host for this Sixth Annual China Town Hall meeting, created by the National Committee on U.S. - China Relations to provide Americans with the opportunity to discuss Sino-American relations with leading experts.   Co-Chairs of the Sarasota-Manatee event were Dr. Richard Elliott and Feng Hou.  

The event began with an overview of US-China relations by Scott Lincicone representing the National Committee on U.S. - China Relations; Allen Carlson, president and CEO of Sarasota’s Sun Hydraulics and Dr. Charles Steilen, VP Business and Economic Development for the Sister Cities Association of Sarasota.

The local presentations were followed by a live webcast featuring Gary Locke, US Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China.  Locke is the first Chinese-American United States ambassador to China, serving in this role since since the summer of 2011. Locke spoke to those watching the webcast from 60 venues across the nation.   

Locke remarks were wide ranging and focused on existing business opportunities for US companies and the US-China relationship. But from a Sister Cities perspective it was important to note the importance he places on citizen diplomacy initiatives. He sees these people to people initiatives providing “the defining relationship of our time.”

He stressed four times in his question and answer portion of the web that cooperation between the two countries has grown, he would like to see more people-to-people cooperation.

He noted there are currently about 160,000 Chinese students studying in the U.S., versus 15,000 to 17,000 U.S. students studying in China every year. "We need more people from America to come to China to understand the history, the culture, the language and the values of China if we are to then have greater cooperation," Locke said. “We have a strong and growing relationship with China; we are making history through relationships.”

He said he views the people to people contacts between the two nations as “the last three steps in establishing solid business connections.”  Locke views the more exposure citizens of both nations have to our different cultures acts in a calming of fears and tempers.

Locke said as part of the people-to-people exchange efforts, the U.S. has tried to make it easier and faster for people in China to get visas to travel to the U.S. for business, pleasure or studying. Two years ago it took about 100 days for a Chinese citizen to get an interview for a visa, and now it is down to a maximum of eight days in the busiest months. Though Locke said the relationship is challenging at times, it is important to continue to foster positive partnerships because of how "intertwined and interdependent" the two economies have become.

During the local program prior to the webcast, Scott Lincicone representing the National Committee on U.S. - China Relations told the program attendees that China’s biggest need was to obtain political stability to enhance domestic employment.  Some of his key points included the Chinese government can act quickly; China understands it is in their interest to make monetary changes, but they feel trapped in making adjustments; China is trying to change from an export nation to one of domestic spending economy; per capita income in China is $5,000 a year, in the US $41,000;  the $5,000 per capita income is a skewed number as the wealth in China centers along the coast - the per capita income in the interior of China is closer to $2,500 per year.

Allen Carlson, president and CEO of Sarasota’s Sun Hydraulics, told the attendees who a local Sarasota company founded in 1997 became the industrial leader in worldwide business positioning.  He called the Sun Hydraulics business model on of differentiated company using a stakeholder approach involving leadership and community involvement.

Company policy is no one has a job title, “if you give someone a title, then they focus on that job.”  The exception to this policy is only for the required SEC requirements for listing a public company on the stock exchange which makes listing a CEO and CFO mandatory. No one in the company has a business card with title printed on it.  It is a company founded by engineers.  There are no perks for management, no company car or private offices.  Company benefits are all the same.

Sun Hydraulics international outreach includes China, Korea, India, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and the US.  They have 900 employees worldwide, 740 of those in Sarasota.  Overseas employees primarily provide technical and marketing support.  Business focus is on reliability, delivery, flexibility, having a global footprint, and having an emphasis on the importance of a web site. All manufacturing is done in Sarasota.  Carlson views his web site as being his “billboard to the world.”

The market in China is growing rapidly.  Sun Hydraulics business has expanded from $6 million in 2010 to $15 million last year.  He said China is easy to get to by flying to Detroit, and then over the North Pole, involving 14-16 hours.  Sun Hydraulics has target 13 cities in China as business locations, including our Sister City of Xiamen.  His experience is that that the Chinese are well educated, hardworking and very similar to Americans, especially in the possession of a sense of humor.  Issues are there is no legal system in China and the middle class only exists along costal China.   

The third speaker was Chuck Steilen, Sister Cities Association of Sarasota VP for Business and Economic Development, a veteran of more than 30 years living and working in Hong Kong and China.  Because of time restrictions, Chuck gave a rapid, well received presentation about his just completed trip to Beijing, Xiamen and Hong Kong and the business climate changes taking place in the effort to go from an export model to domestic consumption model.  He had no time for question and answers as the webcast was just about to begin. Steilen’s business model doctrine has been distributed to members of the board of directors of the Sister Cities Association of Sarasota and can be obtained by those interested by request to cfsteilen@gmail.com

Steilen has background includes serving in sales and new product development at Kimberly Clark Corporation; Professor of Advertising/Marketing at the University of Illinois and at Georgia State University; Marketing professor at The Chinese University of Hong Kong;  associate director of the university’s Graduate School of Business and executive director of the Chinese University’s Asia Pacific Institute of Business which provided management consulting and management development programs for both multinational corporations and many Asian based companies;  Marketing Consultant to the Hong Kong Government’s Trade Development unit; Business columnist for Hong Kong’s daily English language newspaper, the South China Morning Post. 

He was Dean of the College of Business Administration at Hawaii Pacific University; Member of the Hawaii Export Council, providing marketing training workshops for over 100 Small-to-Medium sized Hawaii based companies; a writer on Exporting for Management Today magazine. He holds his undergraduate degree in Marketing from Bradley University, a Master’s Degree in Marketing from California State University at Long Beach and a Doctorate in Business Administration from the University of Oregon.  

Since moving back to the Mainland U.S., my interests are to assist U.S. companies in developing and executing overseas marketing strategies and in helping individuals understand the opportunities and methods of doing business overseas.