China Link May Create Kansas Jobs

Fellows Fall 2005

By Alan Bjerga

June 03, 2009

SHANGHAI, China -- Karyn Page said you can see the difference on the streets.

"Less bicycles and more cars," said Page, the executive director of the Kansas World Trade Center, based in Wichita. She was last in China in 1998.

"It's a little more Westernized, a little looser," she said. "There's still emphasis on ceremony, but they may be a bit more tolerant of Western influence.

"Perhaps they can't help it anymore."

Perhaps. After decades of tantalizing Westerners with its promise of vast markets, China is perhaps finally starting to fulfill its great economic potential, meaning that Westerners need to adjust or get pushed aside.

That's why Gov. Kathleen Sebelius led a trade delegation to China last week.

How effective the state is in building ties and exploiting relationships will go a long way toward determining winners and losers in China's almost inevitable rise as a global economic power. The Kansans returned home Saturday convinced they had made a start.

"We're on the radar screen," Sebelius said.

China is an increasingly important market for Kansas, making it increasingly important for Kansans to understand.

China is on pace to become the state's third-largest foreign trading partner after Canada and Mexico.

It's also a potential competitor for Kansas jobs, especially manufacturing jobs like those in Wichita aerospace.

Chris Reedy is vice president of Butler National Corporation. The Olathe-based general aviation services company employs about 45 people in Newton.

Reedy is hoping that China will deregulate its airspace for business jets. That would allow his company to pitch its services for what he thinks could become the world's second-largest business jet market.

That would create jobs in Newton, he said.

"If they bring general aviation into their economy, that definitely means engineering jobs and technical jobs as well as assisting with manufacturing parts," he said.

Not preparing to exploit those opportunities when they arise is preparing to fail in the global economy, he said.

"They're going to be in the business," he said. "You might as well help."

Sebelius said a successful China approach means making sure Kansas takes advantage of opportunities, stays ahead of its pitfalls and lets China know about its companies. The state established a trade office in Beijing last week, following 15 other states in operating mainland China offices.

"I think that there's no question that there are jobs that are being lost to China, and that's causing huge concern, and that's understandable," Sebelius said.

"We don't want to see good jobs leave Kansas."

But if China can help create jobs, the losses are offset and the state as a whole can prosper, she said.

"I want to import jobs from China by exporting Kansas products," she said.

The meetings this week were a step, but only a step, she added. Several companies, including Butler National, broke off from the delegation to do their own fact-finding.

The only agreements signed were memoranda of "understanding" -- statements of good intentions, but nothing that necessarily signifies cash or jobs.

"All these meetings are nice, but our next step is to regroup," Sebelius said.

"We have opportunities. What's the best way we can expand them?"