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From the CEO – Trade mission to China and back again

April 2017 - Last week, I returned from a 10-day trade mission to China with a delegation from our region. It was comprised of Economic Development Council (EDC) Directors from Thurston, Mason, and Grays Harbor County; representatives from St. Martin’s University and Evergreen State College, and local government including the City of Aberdeen. The purpose of the trip was to explore opportunities to expand trade and investment between Southwest Washington and China for the mutual benefit of both economies. We visited four cities – Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong from March 17 to 27.

While this trip was the first time Greater Grays Harbor, Inc. has participated in a trade mission to China in recent years, Thurston County EDC has been building relationships in China for the past ten years through numerous visits and exchanges. Over time, their continued efforts have paid off in the form of several investments in Thurston County. These include three developments in Lacey –two mixed-use retirement/residential developments and one residential multi-family development— and a major mixed-use development in downtown Olympia. The Olympia development will be an 8-story building (6 stories of residential and 2 stories commercial and retail) – which is the first development of this type and magnitude in Olympia in 15 years. St. Martin’s University (SMU) has also successfully recruited international students from China to attend the school over the past few years. Currently, over 35 international students attend SMU paying full tuition.

Based on our recent Business Retention and Expansion survey of over 90 local businesses in Grays Harbor, we have been able to identify several changes that need to occur to retain local businesses and help them grow and expand. These include hotel development, mixed use and residential housing developments, and the recruitment of additional manufacturing facilities.

Our visit entailed meetings with real estate investment and development companies, CEO’s of major Chinese corporations and companies, and representatives from the Shanghai Chamber of Commerce and Shenzhen Hi-Tech Chamber of Commerce. Our meetings were very encouraging and are only the first step in cultivating a relationship that can hopefully yield results. Last fall, we hosted a delegation of Chinese investors that toured our area to learn about our region and the investment opportunities that are available. Another visit from a Chinese delegation is currently being planned for November and we are looking forward to sharing more potential investment options with them later this year.

Attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) from China is one strategy that we are employing to maintain a diversified approach toward economic development within Grays Harbor. These deals do not happen overnight and require time and commitment to cultivate and nurture. Based on the success that Thurston County has achieved, we believe that it is a strategy worth pursuing and one that we will work tirelessly to promote to help Grays Harbor become a more competitive and attractive destination to live, work, and play.