As their China business mission nears completion, Gwinnett County officials are seeing fruit from relationships they’ve cultivated in the Asian nation.

During a press conference today in the coastal city of Qingdao, Hisense USA Corp. formally announced that it would open a research and development center in Gwinnett, investing $800,000 and creating 35-40 jobs over the next three to five years.

Hisense Co. Ltd. is one of China’s largest home appliance and electronics manufacturers. It put its North American headquarters in the Gwinnett County city of Suwanee in 2001. The company currently has nearly 20 employees in Georgia, more than half of whom are Chinese, said Steven Cohen, director of sales and marketing for Hisense USA.

Mr. Cohen helped arrange the China trip for the Gwinnett delegation, which includes Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce President Jim Maran and Vice President of Economic Development Nick Masino. Gwinnett County Commission Chairman Charles Bannister also made the trip, along with a few other Georgia businesspeople.

Hisense’s expansion includes the purchase of a new 6,000-square-foot, two-story facility, Mr. Cohen told GlobalAtlanta in a phone interview from Beijing on June 25. He said that the real estate deal should close soon.

The company will also keep the space it’s currently leasing, Mr. Cohen said. While employees presently work on sales, marketing and customer support, Hisense’s expansion in the U.S. will require localizing its products – like flat screen TVs, refrigerators and washing machines – for American tastes. The R&D center will help accomplish that, Mr. Cohen said.

Having a solid presence in the market sets Hisense apart from some other Chinese companies selling here, said Mr. Cohen, who moved to Atlanta about three years ago.

“I think the difference is that there are many Chinese companies that are selling products in the U.S. but don’t have U.S. presence like we do.  Although we’re a Chinese company, we still have local hires, and we still have to understand the market,” he said.

Hisense is also going above and beyond its sales goals, another rarity in a time when companies that make consumer products have been hit hard.

“We’re doing extremely well. For the first quarter of 2009, we’ve exceeded our revenue goals by more than three times,” Mr. Cohen said.

Qingdao was the last stop for the Gwinnett delegates, who started their journey in Shanghai and the surrounding area before traveling to Beijing and Qingdao.

Mr. Bannister, the county commission chairman, said the announcement “proves the value of international business recruitment missions.”

Last year, during Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue‘s first business mission to China, PAX Technologies, another Chinese company, announced that it would set up shop in Norcross.

The Gwinnett delegation will travel to South Korea on June 28 to sign a partnership agreement with the Gangnam district of Seoul. GlobalAtlanta will have a reporter covering the event.

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...