CINCINNATI - West Chester Township will sign its first sister city agreement while on a trade trip to China in November, a deal that could link two regions with a similar economy and rich brewing history.
Ohio’s largest township is sending Lee Wong, president of its board of trustees, to the first China International Import Expo in Shanghai from Nov. 5 to 10. While in China, Wong plans to sign a sister-city proclamation with Jiaozhou, a city of about 1 million people on China’s east coast.
“This is going outside to fish, not poaching from another region,” Wong said. “I’m there to learn how to do business with China the proper way and to open up a good business relationship.”
Jiaozhou is a county-level city in China’s Shandong province. It’s investing billions in its economy and infrastructure with an emphasis on biomedical and intelligent manufacturing companies, along with supply chain logistics and ecommerce, according to a January report in China Daily.
Jiaozhou is a one-hour drive from Qingdao, where China’s most famous beer is produced. German settlers founded the Tsingtao Brewery in 1903, the same time Cincinnati’s beer barons were growing hops and barley in West Chester and Liberty Township.
“It would be nice to get a Tsingtao Brewery here,” Wong said, smiling. “We have all the natural resources.”
The Greater Cincinnati Chinese Chamber of Commerce is organizing the November trade trip, which includes the expo and additional visits to eight mega-cities with populations of 10 to 34 million. Up to 30 local business and political leaders are expected to participate, including Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley and representatives from Procter & Gamble Co., the University of Cincinnati and Miami University.
“We had done trade missions in the past, however this year is different,” said Leo Chan, executive director of the Chinese Chamber. “It is one of the rare opportunities for this region to present ourselves in front of 1.4 billion consumers.”
China is already an important market for some of Cincinnati’s biggest companies. P&G gets about 9 percent of its total revenue from Greater China, while Macy’s and Kroger both have deals to sell products through Alibaba’s ecommerce platforms. Milacron Holdings Corp., which makes plastic-processing machines, gets about 11 percent of its revenue from China, its third largest geographic market.
“A lot of industrial specialists in China know the name of Milacron,” Chan said. “Procter & Gamble probably is a name known more to the Chinese than Cincinnati itself. That’s the reason why it’s very important for us to have the mayor of Cincinnati to go to China with us so that we can capitalize on the work that companies from this region has done.”
The trip comes at a time of increasing tension between the U.S. and China, which have accused each other of unfair trade practices in recent years.
The dispute escalated this year as the countries slapped tariffs on a combined $50 billion in annual commerce between the nations. President Donald Trump last week threatened a new round of tariffs on more than $200 billion in Chinese exports, while China asked the World Trade Organization this week to impose $7 billion in annual sanctions against the U.S. for a dispute over dumping duties that dates back to 2016.
Chan said the trade tensions haven’t caused any companies to say no to the trip, but many have expressed concerns.
“We feel that no matter what the political climate is, trade and direct investments will continue,” he said. “I think this is the right timing, I think the value is there for this region and for China. And I think it’s a good investment.”
Cole Hazenfield is sold on that idea. The co-founder of a local startup, Parity Water, is trying to find the financing to join the Chinese Chamber trade mission. His company developed high-grade sensors that predict water-quality changes in fish farms.
China is the world’s largest seafood producer and accounts for 60 percent of the world’s aquaculture production, according to a December 30 report by the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.
"We've definitely identified China as being kind of our home base for where we can get the most out of this product,” he said.