Booming China economy a market for Maine goods

Posted May 31, 2010, at 7:47 p.m.

It has been said that the 21st century will belong to China, and that China soon may be the only remaining superpower, economically, militarily and politically. Now, while Washington tries to sort out a sensible relationship with China, enterprising Mainers have their eyes on the ball, understanding that the booming Chinese economy represents a market for Maine’s goods and services, a manufacturing resource and a potential source of

foreign direct investment in the Maine economy.

Recently, the Maine-China Business Center (MCBC), founded by Falmouth resident Suzanne Fox, hosted a gathering of 30 Maine businesspeople and educators engaged with China in various ways to share experiences and identify ways to collaborate with one another. The MCBC has its origins in Maine-China networking conferences hosted by Maine Maritime Academy in October 2004 and December 2005. The center maintains a directory of more than 20 Mainers living and working in China and ready to support Maine-based initiatives there.

The economic development value of expanded knowledge of Chinese language and culture is not lost on Maine educators. Proof is that the University of Maine Farmington recently hosted a gathering of some 15 educators, businesspeople and other interested parties to consider possibilities for establishing on the UM Farmington campus a Confucius Institute, a center for the study of Chinese language and culture underwritten in part by the Chinese government.

At the Farmington meeting, a representative of the Maine Department of Education reported that more than 600 students already are enrolled in Chinese language instruction in more than 20 middle and high school programs around the state. The teachers in some of these programs are in Maine as guest teachers under a long-standing agreement between the Maine Department of Education and the Chinese government.

At present, more than 400 students from around the world, predominantly mainland China, are paying tuition to attend Maine’s secondary schools. For George Stevens Academy alone, this means about $1 million in revenue.

In short, considering also the dozens of tuition-paying Chinese students at Maine’s colleges and universities, continued and expanded enrollment of Chinese students at all levels in Maine’s educational institutions can mean revenues for the state in the many millions of dollars.

Meanwhile, countless Maine companies qualify for participation in the China market, not least of all in China’s aggressive development of its infrastructure and in its struggle to come to grips with staggering environmental problems. Surely many millions of dollars in contracts are out there, ripe for pursuit by enterprising Maine companies. Such Maine companies will be well advised to take advantage of the capabilities and networks maintained by the Maine-China Business Center.

Robert M. Sargent of Sargentville is a former U.S. diplomat and co-founder of the Maine-China Network. Born in China to missionary parents, he is curator of “China: Exploring the Interior, 1903-04,” a traveling exhibit of photographs of late Qing dynasty China taken by Sedgwick native R. Harvey Sargent.

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