ROCKVILLE – Set two days before Valentine’s Day, the banquet at Seven Seas Restaurant had all the makings of romance: tables set with fine linen, the smell of exotic dishes floating in from kitchen and bright red napkins folded like blooming flowers.
The dinner guests, however, had joint ventures, not love connections, in mind.
Executives from more than 100 companies on both sides of the Pacific attended the Maryland-China Business Council Chinese Banquet Wednesday. With backgrounds ranging from medical manufacturing to enamel inlaying, American and Chinese businessmen looked for potential partners while talking shop over Szechuan-style fish and sweet rice pudding.
“What you’re hoping for when you go to these things is to get one or two business cards and maybe start a relationship from there,” said Jack Sims, mayor of District Heights and president of an international trading company.
The mingling took work though, with most of the businessmen monolingual and only a handful of translators. Joseph Ludford of Gaithersburg came prepared, bringing two-sided business cards printed in English and Chinese.
“In this kind of trade, there are a lot of obstacles to overcome. You learn to be patient,” said Ludford, president of a consulting company for international trade.
But patience is not a popular word among companies in Maryland and across the country who are eager to break into the booming Chinese market.
Even in the current global downturn, China’s economy has grown. Though experts distrust the Chinese government’s official growth estimates, they agree that China’s growth, coupled with its huge population (estimated at 1.2 billion), makes it an enticing market for investors.
“For almost 200 years, companies have been looking at that enormous population and drooling over it,” said Clay Hickston, president of the Maryland- China Business Council. “Maryland companies definitely share that interest.”
From 1998 to 2001, Maryland almost doubled the value of commodities it exports to China, shipping a value of $125 million in 2001, according to the Foreign Trade Division of the U.S. Census Bureau.
The interest goes both ways. At the banquet on Wednesday, 39 Chinese executives flew from the province of Zhejiang to connect with Maryland companies.
Tang Rong, president of an enamel company, traveled from the city of Hangzhou to see if there’s demand in America for his enamel products.
“The No. 1 difficulty for us is getting information,” he said in Chinese. “I came to find out what products the American people need. They may need my enamel vats. I feel lucky about it.” – 30 – CNS-2-14-03