Maine opens office in Shanghai

Sarah MorrisseauChina Daily, News

By PAUL WELITZKIN, CHINA DAILY USA

Maine’s exports to China include wood pulp for paper manufacturing and its famous lobster and seafood catch. Now with a newly opened office in Shanghai the New England state is going after more direct Chinese investment.

The office that the Maine International Trade Center (MITC) opened in the first week of January will have some trade capabilities, but it will be focused on foreign direct investment, according to Janine Bisaillon-Cary, president of MITC.

“We have a strong position in composites and advanced textiles that we think can lead to more business for our companies in China and also draw additional Chinese investment,” she told China Daily on Jan 23.

Composites and advanced textiles are resin materials used in fabrics for boats and car parts. Bisaillon-Cary said Tex Tech Industries in Portland is leading advanced textile company while Owens Corning is a composite company in Brunswick.

James Breece, a University of Maine economics professor, said the Chinese don’t know much about Maine because of its smallness and remote location in the Northeast US.

The Shanghai office will “educate them,” he told China Daily in an interview.

“We have an incredibly attractive state that is not known by most Chinese tourists who tend to go to New York and Boston,” he said.

“We have a world-class coastline, mountains and lots of clean air and water. Once the Chinese come here and experience the state I believe many of them will want to come back or stay.”

Breece said there already is an ample trade pipeline between Maine and Asia.

“About 51 percent of our exports ($1.4 billion in 2013) go to our largest trading partner Canada. After that spots two through five are Asian countries with China second ($223 million), Japan third, Malaysia fourth and South Korea fifth,” he said.

Exports to China increased to $223 million in 2013 from $100 million in 2008, Breece said. The majority (59 percent) involved wood pulp which is used in paper manufacturing. Paper itself was second at 25 percent and seafood third at 7 percent.

In addition to tourism, Breece said other areas where the Shanghai office can work to improve the state’s economic activity with China, including biomedical, optical instruments, pharmaceuticals and real estate.

“The opportunities in education are endless,” he said. “Our educational system particularly is already attracting a great number of Chinese students.”

Maine has a number of top-ranked private academies on the high-school level such as the Thornton Academy in a classic picturesque Maine setting on the Atlantic Coast in Saco. Founded in 1811, Thornton educates approximately 1,600 students in grades 6-12. About 10 percent of the students are from overseas with China accounting for about half of that.

Mark Powers, director of admissions at Thornton, said the school actively recruits Chinese students. “Thornton Academy’s headmaster and I travel to several cities in China once or twice a year to visit with prospective and current families, alumni, and recruitment partners,” he said in an e-mail to China Daily.

Powers said Chinese students are attracted to the school’s college preparatory program and its STEM offerings (science, technology, engineering and math).

Last year, Maine Senator Angus King said that the US Department of Commerce had awarded an “Export Achievement Certificate” to Thornton in recognition of its work in attracting international students and providing economic development benefits to the state.