September 7, 2013

Bethel says China relationships will pay off for Georgia

Charles Oliver

— Georgia recently become the first state to open a trade representative’s office in Shandong, one of China’s largest and fastest-growing provinces. And state Sen. Charlie Bethel, R-Dalton, says having a presence there should pay off for the state.

“They (Chinese officials and executives) are very much about relationships. They can sometimes make decisions very quickly, but they don’t make them quickly with people they don’t have relationships with, so I’m very excited about the state of Georgia having a representative who can maintain that sort of steady contact,” Bethel said.

Bethel recently returned from a nine-day trade mission to China and Japan with Gov. Nathan Deal and others, a mission that opened the new trade representative’s office as well as celebrated the 40th anniversary of Georgia’s trade office in Tokyo. That mission, whose cost was underwritten by Georgia businesses, brought back some good news for the state.

“While we were over there, a Chinese chemical company announced it would be opening a facility in Effingham County to produce phosphates. That will start up with 50 jobs with more to come,” Bethel said.

China is the second-largest destination for exports from Georgia, and the state leads the nation in selling carpet and poultry to China and is second in the nation for aircraft parts and wood products. China is the largest source of imports into Georgia.

Bethel said the economic relationship between Georgia and East Asia is likely going to grow.

“We had a lot of good conversations with companies in both China and Japan. They gave us some pretty strong signals that those are going to be fruitful,” Bethel said. “In one of our meetings, I spoke to the chairman of the board of a large electronics company. They are in the early stages of planning two new facilities in the United States. And he said, ‘You guys being here, and the discussions we’ve had will definitely move Georgia up on our list.’ We had some discussions with an auto company that looks likely to locate a facility in Georgia. But those aren’t decisions that are going to come quickly.”

Bethel said he hopes that some of the contacts he made in both Japan and China will be able to help economic development in northwest Georgia.

“We don’t have a long history of aggressively pursuing foreign investment, particularly from the Asia-Pacific region. But that’s changing, and companies in those countries are very interested in places that have a manufacturing culture,” he said.