Mayor John Dickert's meeting with representatives from Sheyang, China in December ended with a request from the Chinese delegation. "We'll see you in the spring - in China," Dickert recalled them saying.
The invitation, which was also part expectation, was a sign of the speed at which Sheyang business and government leaders are hoping to build ties with the Racine community. The China SINB group, led by Wanming Chi, bought 54 acres of land in Mount Pleasant to build a 600,000 square-foot Eco-Business Park. The land cost $850,000.
Dickert said in a recent interview that he's attempting to put together a Racine delegation of business leaders and government officials to visit Sheyang, though nothing is definite at this point. Cost is a factor, he said, but business leaders have offered to help pay for the trip. Sheyang is located along the Yellow Sea about 150 miles north of Shanghai.
Dickert said traveling to China could result in business deals for local companies. He's also hoping to present development opportunities in Racine to investors.
Chinese companies have made a push into southeastern Wisconsin in recent months. The BizTimes reported last week that Wanming was one of a handful of Chinese businessmen to purchase property in the Milwaukee-Racine area in 2009. The story also provided interesting background about Wanming and his connection to the Racine area:
The driving force behind SINB North America is Wanming Chi, the president and chairman of the board of SINB Group Co. Ltd. The company does business in manufacturing (particularly structural steel fabrication), real estate development, port construction, financial investment and international trade.Racine's Sister City Committee has begun to explore a relationship with Sheyang, which, despite a population of over 1 million people, is still considered a mid-sized Chinese city, Dickert said.
After the U.S. real estate market collapsed and the economy plunged into a deep recession, Chi became interested in investing in the United States because he saw an opportunity to do so at a discount.
Chi’s business relationship with William Osborne, the president and chief executive officer of Racine-based LGO Global Sourcing LLC, led him to Racine County. LGO assists American businesses with outsourcing manufacturing operations. The company has two China offices in Jiangsu and Beijing. Osborne makes 8 to 10 trips a year to China.
The mayor and the Chinese delegation signed an agreement to consider talking about a Sister City arrangement.
Al Guetzlaff, chairman of Racine's Sister City Committee, described the two cities as being in the "dating/courting process."
Any relationship with Sheyang likely will differ from Racine's other Sister Cities because of the economic incentives underlying the partnership, Guetzlaff said. While the U.S. has a history of treating Sister Cities as "citizen diplomacy," the Chinese Sister City organizations are based in business and more like our Chamber of Commerce, Guetzlaff said.
Based on his experience working with Racine's six Sister Cities - four which are active - Guetzlaff said Racine needs to find a local resident who can "carry the torch" of a Sister City relationship with Sheyang, he said. Wanming's emerging business connections in the Racine area may be the connection needed to seal the Sister City bond, he said.
Guetzlaff also said customs and traditions will come into play on the cross-cultural exchange. For example, the Chinese can be insulted if you do not thoroughly examine a business card they give you.
"There are protocol things that are very important," Guetzlaff said. "Just like when you're courting, there are traditions you need to be aware of."