What Portland business owners learned from China trip

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By Alyssa Williams,

The Portland Business Alliance (PBA) traveled to China on a trade mission last month in part to hear from Oregon companies in China, investigate sustainability practices and tour the Port of Shanghai, one of the Port of Portland’s important trade partners.Over the nine-day mission, 29 individuals from over 20 companies learned about the country’s manufacturing, port and distribution, banking and investment, green buildings and marketing and service sectors. The group’s experiences were blogged throughout the entire trip.

The Northwest visitors toured American companies in China, such as the Precision Castparts company. Steve Holwerda, chief operating officer for Ferguson Wellman Capital, described the factory which makes fasteners for the airline industry as “clean, orderly, and looked like any another factory that you might see in the US” on the PBA blog.

The group also visited the newest world port on the global stage, the Yangshen port. The deepwater port was built 20 miles into the China Sea on an island that once had been a fishing village. More than two years later, a 20-mile bridge connects the mainland to the island, the village is relocated and the island is now reshaped to accommodate the shipping port that has the capacity to ship more than six million containers a year, compared to the Port of Portland’s 250,000 containers. However, presentations on the tour confirmed a significant slowdown in the shipping business.

In Beijing, PBA members explored China’s own Pearl District, Silo City. Silo City, once a part of Beijing’s central city that housed grain silos, is now a high-rise condo development designed to attract 25-35 year old individuals. Developers are applying for LEED certification for the condos that could house up to 20,000 people.

“The word used most frequently was ‘epiphany,’” posted Sandra McDonough, president and CEO of PBA, on the trip’s blog. “Unless you actually see it, the transformation that China has undergone is hard to fathom. Yes, the country still has significant problems, like air pollution and huge wealth disparities between urban and rural populations. But this country clearly is emerging as a huge force in the world economy, as a producer and a consumer. We saw that its ties with Oregon are strong, and we stand to benefit from this economic relationship as China continues to evolve.”

In other news, the PBA is also addressing HB 2818 and SB 440, a state tax on rental cars and broadening the definition of allowed expenditures for a lodging tax beyond traditional tourism activities. The association calls the two bills a “double hit” to tourism-related business when the industry is already suffering due to the economy and the nationwide decline in travel.

The PBA states expanding expenditures on the lodging tax is a significant challenge to an industry that according to McDonough in a letter to Senator Ginny Burdick “has worked closely and cooperatively with local jurisdictions to find appropriate and supportable levels and uses for lodging excise taxes.” Similarly, the PBA claims the proposed car rental excise tax would cause Multnomah County to have the highest car rental tax rate in the nation, potentially deterring tourists from traveling to destinations within the state. They ask that other revenue options be researched.

Alyssa Williams