Thursday, November 12, 2009

China On the Move

A couple of weeks ago, I spent some time in Beijing and Tianjin, China. We visited the country to sign an agreement with Tianjin University that would kick off a project to establish a fire school at the university. A delegation from Tianjin visited TEEX last year to look at our capabilities to serve the petrochemical industry in emergency response. As you may have heard, China has an emerging strength in petrochemical capacity centered in Tianjin, and the university is looking to provide a similar level of emergency services training to their industry.

It was my first time to visit this country, and I didn’t know quite what to expect. I was wowed by the Olympics on TV like everyone else. But it was no different than being wowed by the new Dallas Cowboys’ Stadium, because we only needed to travel a few miles to see the other side of the story.

This is a very vibrant country with lots of activity and energy. This is a country on the move with a genuine purpose, and they have the resources to fulfill that purpose. There is an air of optimism and hope. Sure, there is a fair amount of air pollution due to their automobiles and industrial expansion, which reminded me of growing up in Los Angeles. Personal space is at a premium, similar to downtown New York.

If you are like me, you have always wondered about the human rights issues. But I saw nothing to lead me to believe people were unfairly constrained in their daily lives. People traveled around the cities freely, and I was always greeted with friendly curiosity.

All in all, I have nothing negative to say about this country, which presents both a challenge and an opportunity for us Americans. The challenge is that this economic force is competing against us. It is very apparent that their government is pulling out all the stops to become the biggest exporter of goods in the world. For those of us that have a strong distaste for any government intervention in the market, be aware that the global playing field for our companies is tilted against us. We cannot regulate our small businesses without helping them acquire new markets

China is a great opportunity for United States businesses. The Chinese marketplace is huge, but I doubt that it will open up for small businesses by itself. We as a country need to look at our policies for increasing our success in exporting, with a focus on helping the little guy to compete more effectively.

Gary Sera is director of the Texas Engineering Extension Service and invites your comments.

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