Those who want to do business in China need an agent. The catch: everyone who speaks English and Chinese calls themselves an agent.
Alaska's business future could be with China, speakers say 122408 BUSINESS 1 Morris News Service, Alaska Those who want to do business in China need an agent. The catch: everyone who speaks English and Chinese calls themselves an agent.

Rob Stapleton Photo

Malcolm Roberts listens to the music of a Providence Alaska Medical Center therapist who performed at the World Trade Center Alaska's fourth annual China Business Conference luncheon on Dec. 11 in Anchorage.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Story last updated at 12/24/2008 - 10:51 am

Alaska's business future could be with China, speakers say

Those who want to do business in China need an agent. The catch: everyone who speaks English and Chinese calls themselves an agent.

It was one piece of advice Skip Nelson of Anchorage-based ADS-B Technologies offered to a group of business leaders attending the fourth annual China Business Conference, held in Anchorage Dec. 11.

"The other thing to watch for are trade shows; some are just a rip-off," he said.

Nelson was among a host of speakers at the World Trade Center Alaska conference discussing not so much the vast possibilities that China has to offer Alaska, but what to watch out for as well.

Nelson's talk, "Surviving a Small Business Start-up in China," was an eye opener. Nelson made 29 trips to China since the startup of his two offices in Beijing and Hong Kong in 2004.

Still, "it's big, it's safe, the people are friendly, and its open for business," he said.

Nelson said his companies have grossed $4.7 million between its 11 clients that include private and government contracts.

Chinese agents are a "necessary evil," he said. But Nelson applauded China's progress over the years.

The keynote speaker, former U.S. Interior Secretary and Alaska governor, Wally Hickel, suggested Alaska call on the Chinese to build the Alaska natural gas pipeline from the North Slope to Valdez.

"Yes, the Alaska natural gas pipeline can be one of the great projects of this century to improve life and health for all our trading partners. And with China's help, we can build it years sooner, helping America with the jobs and productive economy we need," Hickel said.

Hickel hasn't been shy about his lack of support to current Gov. Sarah Palin's TransCanada pipeline project, saying he doubts it will ever get built.

Hickel also referred to President-elect Barack Obama as a great leader, much needed at a time when the country is approaching depression status.

"In time of crisis, as has happened before in our history, when we needed a great leader, America found one," Hickel said. "I believe that President-elect Barack Obama will be a great leader. But he cannot do it alone."

At the luncheon, both Hickel and Nelson referred to the 2,000 years of experience that China has had doing business in Asia, saying that now is the time to tap into that knowledge.

"The American people cannot do it alone," Hickel said. "All nations must help. Each country has its own talents and resources. We need them all. Let's leave behind old ideologies and old animosities. Let's turn old enemies into friends. We have much to learn from China. America cannot spend our way out of this crisis. We must work our way out of this crisis. And China is showing us how."

To meet that challenge, James Liszka, a dean at the University of Alaska Anchorage, presented information about the newly formed Confucius Institute at UAA.

Joe Jacobson, with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, said that some 80 percent of China's imports from the U.S. came from Alaska seafood, bringing $441 million to the state for seafood exports.

Total exports - which includes fish and other resources - to China from Alaska came to $715.6 million, a 50 percent increase from 2006, making the Asian country Alaska's No. 2 trade partner.

"The quality and safety of Alaska seafood has spotlighted our seafood products," he said.

Jacobson said China consumes an annual average of 56 pounds of seafood per person. "What we need to do is to educate the growing middle class on how to prepare frozen seafood products; this is alien to the Chinese at this point."

ASMI has produced cookbooks of Chinese-language recipes that use frozen Alaska seafood.

Presenters who have frequented China say the country is not only pro-business, but officials there can decide on a project and build it the time that U.S. officials take to get a building permit and complete the necessary environmental impact studies.

"Banking (in China) is sophisticated, the cityscapes are amazing and they are driving American cars - the big SUV and town car styles," said Nelson. "Business goes on 24-hours a day."

After spending four months in the U.S. and returning to Beijing, Nelson said he couldn't find his office building because two high-rise buildings had been erected around it, completely obscuring the facility.

"The Chinese have been doing business for over 3,000 years," said Nelson. "Business is a sport to the Chinese, and we are the newcomers to their world."