Waterford, Michigan -- Oakland County officials signed a memorandum of understanding with a major Chinese city that could lead to significant economic development investment and hundreds of jobs in Oakland County in 2013.
The agreement was signed Sunday in Haian City, Jiangsu Province by Deputy County Executive Matt Gibb and provincial officials. Such agreements are typically signed with the Chinese government before private investment can take place outside the country.
"You have to build relationships," Gibb said today by phone from China. "Permission must be granted by the local and national governments before local companies can invest overseas. By building these relationships, it gives us an advantage when dealing with the companies and the government. It's perfect timing for us. China has recognized the need to expand outside the country and Oakland County is perfectly positioned for that expansion."
Oakland County is looked upon favorably as a location for Chinese investment, Haian City Mayor Shan Xiaoming told Gibb.
"Oakland County has recognized the great opportunity of Haian and we will think of them first when our companies seek to invest and grow in America," Xiaoming said.
Oakland County has a strong foreign business presence, with 850 foreign-owned firms from 37 countries. It also makes an impressive case for Chinese investment. More than 25 percent of the approximately 44,500 Chinese residents in Michigan live in Oakland County. There are about two dozen Chinese firms operating here. Most of the county's 28 public school districts all offer Mandarin language, culture or both under a program launched in 2007 by County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and instituted by Oakland Schools. The American Chinese School of Greater Detroit is located in Birmingham.
"We started the Mandarin program in our public schools because we understood the importance Chinese investment would have globally," Patterson said. "The potential for investment and the jobs that accompany that investment are key components to our diversifications and economic recovery."
Gibb's trip is his second to China in three months and the third by Oakland County’s business development team since September. His trip coincided with celebration in Haian City which marked its elevation to one of the top 16 economic development zones in China. Officials from a host of foreign countries including Germany, Israel and Italy attended the celebration. Oakland County is believed to be the only government from the United States represented, Gibb said.
Gibb had meetings planned with auto and information technology companies in several other Chinese cities including Shanghai before returning home on Wednesday.