Our final city visit on this trip was to Hong Kong, which is beautifully situated on the coast and is very modern. The 10-year-old state-of-the-art airport sits on a man-made island about 30 minutes from downtown. Given its history of being longtime British colony, it is the most westernized Chinese city that we visited. We arrived in the early evening — with enough time to get fitted for a suit that cost a quarter of the U.S. price — then headed over to Hong Kong Island to do some last-minute shopping in the street market. What a sight to see: thousands of people walking shoulder to shoulder down shop-lined streets buying everything from knock-off Rolexes to rubber chickens, all trying to negotiate the best deal they could. After being taken a few times, I became the hardest negotiator in the street — at least in my own mind. I had to depart early the next day while the group had a last day of meetings. I feel very privileged to have been invited to travel to China with a first-class Tennessee delegation. I enjoyed getting to know the governor, the commissioners, their hard-working staff and, most of all, the Tennessee business leaders who all share a common interest in growing ties with China. I met many people, both American and Chinese, with whom I plan to explore opportunities. China was different than I had anticipated. I had envisioned more of a third-world infrastructure that only had an upper and lower class, all ruled by the fist of Communism. Instead, I found a very robust ‘capitalist-like’ society backed by a government in pursuit of world power. The country’s leaders have the strong taste for wealth and are making monumental strides in buying up the world’s natural resources and learning (some would call it stealing) everything they can to improve their citizens’ lives. Although, like us right now, I’m not sure they’ve figured out how to pay for it. The Chinese have a rich history dating back thousands of years, during which they have seen just about everything. While they do have a judicial system, they seem to still turn a blind eye to human rights, the protection of intellectual property and true freedom of speech. I was warned to watch what I blogged, as they do monitor ‘reporter-like’ information. (For more on that, check out hotel Internet use disclaimer.) I didn’t want Bill Clinton to have to come fetch me. The few businesspeople I spoke with who are doing business in China said that, while their costs are still very low, they are still only comfortable with transaction-based investments, i.e. outsourcing portions of their production to Chinese companies instead of fully investing in facilities there. Their fear is that their product patents will be stolen and their real estate taken. It’s still a bit of the Wild West there. But then again, on the clock of Chinese’s long history, so was the U.S. only a few minutes ago.
Oct 30, 2009 2:38 PM
Our third stop was Hangzhou, located about two hours west of Shanghai. Many people from Shanghai have second homes in Hangzhou, which is surrounded by mountains, has a large river running through it and a large, calm lake sitting in the middle of the city. In the morning before meetings, Butch Eley, Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, Tom Cigarran, a few others and I took a bus to see Buddhist temple nestled in the hills just outside of town. The beautifully restored structure was one of the only temples not destroyed when Mao took power. We were told that, after being given a heads up that the Communists were on their way, the 1,000 monks who lived there hung large photographs of Mao on the walls of the temple. It convinced the revolutionary leader not to destroy it and the site is still home to several buildings containing Buddhist statues more than 30 feet tall. From there, we drove to a tea plantation built into the hills of a steep canyon. It resembled a small Napa Valley winery. We stopped for a tasting and learned that many world leaders — including the No. 1 tea lover, Queen Elizabeth — had tasted tea there. We got a full education on growing tea plants, the drying process and then drinking it. Unfortunately, it didn’t have any alcohol. But like wine, they have several different price levels, which we tried — and of course had to buy. The Chinese are great salespeople. We all just had to buy the tea which all of the dignitaries drank, known as the “Emperor’s Tea.” While it was good and cost the group over $2,000, I don’t think any of us plan to trade in our Starbucks coffee anytime soon. We were all glad that we took the trip. It was good to see the countryside and something other than skyscrapers piercing through smog. Our day ended with several hours of meetings with the local city and provincial government, where Governor Bredesen signed another memorandum of understanding to work together on business opportunities. We heard from the CEO of the 700-bed hospital in which HCA’s Tommy Frist has invested more than $120 million. We then had a reception with local business people where we talked about opportunities to do business in China and the U.S. Most were health care and energy companies, but I did speak with a young a woman, educated in the U.S., who was now with a private-equity firm looking to invest in the States. This was refreshing to hear, as most companies were still looking for Chinese investment. Later that evening, a few of us went to a karaoke establishment. That’s the only way to describe it. It was in an office building, had marble-lined floors and walls with about 20 private, well-appointed rooms for groups to privately belt out their best “Rocky Mountain High.” While walking back to our hotel, I noticed a drunken squabble between a man and a very pregnant woman. I immediately ran over and pulled the two apart and they said a few things that I couldn’t understand. Some things are best left unsaid or uninterpreted.
Oct 30, 2009 12:47 PM
Ronnie Barrett says state officials told him they were on board with his plans to expand and add 300 jobs just off I-24 in Rutherford County — until they weren't and left him with a building he can't get to.
"TDOT was very in favor of it. They said, 'Yes, we like it. It's an old farm fence out there. I think it's going to be easy just to move the fence,'" said Barrett. "Now we have the inability to be able to win certain government contracts because our building's not big enough."
Oct 30, 2009 10:39 AM
We took a two-hour flight to the next stop on our trip, Xi’an (pronounced ‘she-on’), which was once the capital of China. It is a beautiful old city with an inner city surrounded by an 8.5-mile, 40-foot-high brick wall with gates that close each evening. We had another day of meetings with local city officials and business leaders. A health care exchange group that includes David Osborn from Vanderbilt had traveled to Xi’an in June to visit some rural hospitals and take part in a wide-ranging knowledge exchange. After long days of meetings, they would go sing karaoke. When David asked his hosts if they knew any country music, they immediately said, "Yes, John Denver and Garth Brooks." Without debating whether John Denver was country or not, David sang his best "Rocky Mountain High." I’m thinking that when Garth gets done with his Vegas stint he can take his show to Shanghai. On Saturday, we traveled about an hour out of Xi’an to visit the Terracotta Army. The site was discovered in 1974 when a peasant digging a well on his farm stumbled on a 2,000-year-old buried collection of life-size statues. Oddly enough, the peasant was there signing books when we visited, but wouldn’t allow photos to be taken. The same Emperor who had constructed the Great Wall had 700,000 people build an army to protect him in his afterlife. (Talk about an incredible case of narcissism.) After taking 35 years to construct, the 8,000-plus soldiers were destroyed the year after he died and have been buried ever since. The emperor’s tomb still sits under a massive hill and authorities have not started to exhume his mausoleum. When we returned to town, a few of the wives who have joined us wanted to get foot massages. The guys tried to wiggle out of it until we heard that they serve cold beer during the massage. We reluctantly joined them and soon learned that a foot massage actually includes the entire body. They provided us with prison-like shirts and shorts, which ignited 90 minutes of laughs as we all sat in the same room wondering how the guys would explain this back home. While it is apparently very common for men to get ‘foot’ massages, I agreed not to expose any names here. After all, what happens in Xi’an stays in Xi’an.
Oct 27, 2009 6:30 AM
Within our group, there are several people already doing business in China who provided first-hand experience about their investments here. Dr. Ming Wang, who was born in China and has lived in Nashville for many years, has been a part owner in a privately owned eye hospital in China. So far, he feels his investments have been secure and have produced modest returns. The health care industry in China is many years behind the U.S.’, but his company is about to go public on the Chinese exchange and he is excited about the future opportunities. I also enjoyed speaking with Chris Schmid from Brentwood, who works for a supply chain management company that works with companies to export and source products in China and abroad. He, too, has had much success dealing with China, but every day is a new day and requires him to stay engaged with his Chinese counterparts. Before we left Beijing, Aubrey Preston and I took a short $2 cab ride over to see Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. The square was a massive gathering area for thousands surrounded by government buildings and museums. This was the site of the 1989 student demonstrator who stood in front of the tank. To the north is a large parliament building with a huge photo of Chairman Mao, the founder of The People’s Republic of China in 1949. I joked with Aubrey that he should put his photo on one of his buildings in Leipers Fork. He didn’t find that as amusing as I did. Although, since our visit, he has bought a book of Mao verses he intends to donate to the Puckett’s library. His face may be appearing soon. We had to get back quickly to the hotel to catch our bus to the airport, so we caught a small rickshaw. In a hurry, I forgot to negotiate a price with the woman driver who had to be in her 70s. She drove like the little boy in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” — in and out of cars, inches away from getting hit about five times. I’ve learned that street lights are merely a suggestion as to what drivers should do. When we arrived back to the hotel, the woman told me I owed her $30. Remember when I said it only cost $2 to get to our destination? I attempted to refute the charge, but she loudly scolded me in Chinese like I was an eight-year-old thief, so I shamefully handed over the money. I should never complain about the price of a cab in Nashville.
Oct 26, 2009 11:02 AM
Commissioner Matt Kisber officially opened the China Trade Mission with introductions and a summary of the economic development achievements that have been accomplished in Tennessee over the past seven years. During Governor Bredesen's two terms, he has created $28 billion of new business, created 170,000 new jobs and attracted 48 new headquarters to Tennessee. As a California native, these are impressive numbers to me when I consider the disaster they're now in. Tennessee actually grew slightly in the past year while California lost 732,000 jobs and has 2.2 million unemployed people. Governor Bredesen then gave us a recap of the 2007 China trip and what they've accomplished since the visit. They had signed an MOU to exchange health care ideas for rural areas. It has been successful. There are also joint opportunities in renewable energy. China is making large investments in solar energy, as is Tennessee. Tennessee companies spent $2B in the last year on the technology. Tennessee companies currently export $1.3 billion to China, this number is sure to grow. Tennessee is the 13th-largest importer of Chinese goods. They are our third-largest trading partner after Canada and Mexico. The Governor encouraged us to keep an open mind to as to how Tennesseans can increase business with China. We then heard presentations about the useful U.S. and state resources that are available to companies seeking to do business in China. The Embassy has a Commercial Services Division which assists U.S. companies on exporting products to China. They have many services, including policing intellectual property rights. Also, Tennessee's office of Economic Development has a small office in China. They are the first point of contact for Tennessee businesses wishing to do business here. In the afternoon, we were joined by nearly 100 Chinese business men and woman who wanted to learn more about doing business in Tennessee. The translated presentations consisted of a China-based company with a plant in Tennessee, who touted their great experience with the state. We also heard from a Peking University business professor who has been to Tennessee and raved about the low cost of living, right-to-work policies, logistics via freeways and airports and the beautiful natural resources. We then concluded the day with a reception with the Chinese businesspeople and discussed ways we could do business together. Many cards were exchanged. We all had one thing in common: They, too, are big fans of Elvis and Jack Daniel's. Off to Xi'an, one of China's oldest cities, tomorrow.
Oct 23, 2009 8:16 AM
From a presser:
Governor Phil Bredesen and Commissioner Matt Kisber of the Department of Economic and Community Development announced today that $9.3 million in federal stimulus funds will be available to small- and medium-sized cities and counties through the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program. The competitive grants are available to assist local governments in conserving energy and reducing fossil fuel emissions. “I am very pleased these Recovery Act dollars are available to help local governments become more energy efficient,” said Governor Bredesen. “I have emphasized how important I believe it is for government to lead by example at the state level when it comes to conserving energy. Now our local governments will have the same opportunity to promote energy efficiency in their own communities.”
Oct 22, 2009 8:18 AM
- ALEX B FRUIN INHERITANCE TRUST; CANDACE F STEFANSIC INHERITANCE TRUST; CANDANCE F STEFANSIC INHERITANCE TRUST; FRUIN, ALEX B TRUSTEE; FRUIN ALEX B INHERITANCE TRUST; STEFANSIC, CANDACE F TRUSTEE; STEFANSIC CANDACE F INHERITANCE TRUST; STEFANSIC CANDANCE F INHERITANCE TRUST
- ROSS, BRIDGETT D
- COOKE, ETHEN LANYARD TRUSTEE; COOKE, ETHEN LEWIS ESTATE
- JACOBS, JESSICA ALEXANDRA; JACOBS, ERIKA BESS