Delegations from three Georgia cities left for China on Nov. 1 to solidify municipal relationships that could bring big business dividends for the state’s coastal region.
Officials from Brunswick, Hinesville and Savannah made the trip to strengthen ties with the three cities in the Jiangxi province that will become their respective sister cities.
Jiangxi, a landlocked province in southeastern China, is home to about 43 million people. Its government has targeted Georgia as a potential landing point for companies looking to expand into the U.S. market, according to Shane Keng, an Atlanta-based importer who has been involved in the negotiations.
When the dust settles, Georgia’s coastal region will have forged formal ties with three cities with a combined population of 15 million in an economically dynamic region, Mr. Keng said.
He said Chinese municipalities place a high value on sister relationships and that the primarily cultural trip will eventually reap commercial benefits for coastal Georgia.
“The economy there (in Jiangxi) is growing by leaps and bounds. That’s something that’s going to surprise them, how many American companies are already doing business there,” Mr. Keng said.
Mr. Keng’s wife, Lei Lily Yang, has strong political family ties in Jiangxi and has been appointed by the provincial governor to spearhead the partnership with Georgia, Mr. Keng said. Ms. Yang is president of Datong-America Co. Ltd., a company she founded to help businesses and governments make Chinese connections.
She helped arrange the itinerary for the 18 Georgia delegates and has accompanied them on the trip. Eight people including Mayor Otis Johnson went from Savannah, along with five from Brunswick including Mayor Bryan Thompson and five from Hinesville-Liberty County including Mayor Jim Thomas.
The city governments are footing the bill for the delegates' airfare, while Jiangxi is covering all expenses within the province and part of the Beijing stop that Hinesville and Savannah are making.
They took Delta Air Lines Inc.’s 15-hour nonstop flight from Atlanta to Shanghai and caught their connection to Nanchang, Jiangxi’s capital city, with only a few minutes to spare, according to a trip blog updated by Savannah officials.
In Nanchang, a city of 4 million people, the entire delegation met with high-ranking provincial leaders including Vice Governor Sun Gang, Jiangxi’s equivalent of Georgia Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.
The delegation toured a high-tech park in Nanchang and attended a dinner hosted by Mr. Sun the day after they arrived, Mr. Keng said.
They then fanned out to their respective potential sister cities from Nov. 4-6 to get to know their Chinese counterparts.
Savannah officials visited Jiujiang, a city of about 5 million people in northern Jiangxi. Although Savannah’s population of 130,000 is miniscule comparatively, the cities share an avid interest in logistics.
Savannah boasts the U.S.’s fourth-largest and fastest-growing port, and much of its recent success is due to the dramatic increase in container traffic coming from China.
About half of the goods going through the Savannah port come from Greater China, which includes Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Jiujiang’s name literally means “nine rivers,” and the city is building a massive port on the Yangtze River that will link manufacturing centers in the Jiangxi interior to China’s eastern seaboard at Shanghai.
The project is run by the Shanghai International Port Group, which works closely with Savannah and has sent representatives on many occasions to the Georgia city.
In April, Jiujiang’s deputy mayor visited Savannah to sign a letter of intent with Mr. Johnson to establish the sister city relationship.
According to the Savannah delegation’s trip blog, the agreement was formalized on the Jiujiang side at a luncheon banquet Tuesday.
The agreement has yet to receive official approval by Sister Cities International, but Mr. Keng said it will be one of two relationships highlighted and verified on the Chinese side on Nov. 8 at the China International Friendship Cities Conference in Beijing.
Brunswick, another Georgia city with a strong port, visited Ganzhou, which has about 5 million people. Hinesville, the smallest of the Georgia cities, is paired with the largest Jiangxi partner, Yichun, which has almost 6 million people.
The mission reciprocates many trips to Georgia by various municipal, business and provincial Jiangxi officials. Jiangxi’s foreign trade director, Yang Hongji, visited Atlanta in April.
Keeping tabs on these relationships will be important in showing Chinese officials that the cities are serious about fostering business ties, Bill Harrison, president of the Coweta County Development Authority, told GlobalAtlanta.
Mr. Harrison’s organization helped negotiate a deal that brought the first Chinese manufacturer to Georgia, a joint venture that produced food packaging and condiment maker Kingwasong LLC near Newnan.
During six trips to China, Mr. Harrison has noticed how Chinese authorities emphasize relationships in business dealings.
“One thing about the Chinese is that they want to know you, know your community and develop a friendship before they do business, and that's not the way we do it in the U.S.,” he said. “(The trip) will be a huge plus.”
The Brunswick delegation returns to Georgia on Nov. 7, while the Savannah and Hinesville delegations will move on to Beijing before returning via Shanghai on Nov. 10.
They’ll visit the state’s trade and tourism office, which Gov. Sonny Perdue established there during Georgia’s first official mission to China in April.
They’ll also meet with Jin Xu, deputy director general in the Ministry of Commerce. Mr. Jin approves Chinese companies looking to invest abroad, like the three that set up manufacturing operations in Georgia last year.
This isn’t the first time Georgia mayoral delegations have traveled to China. In April, the mayors of Athens, Roswell and Valdosta and the mayor pro-tem of Savannah traveled to a tourism forum in Zhengzhou, Henan province.