Chicago firms are key to China's global dreams

January 20, 2011

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(Getty Images/Brendan Smialowski)
Chinese President Hu Jintao joined U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for a luncheon yesterday in Washington, D.C.

“China will be the world’s largest economy, it hopes to change the world’s currency regime, and it certainly has the public relations advantage right now,” says Ted Fishman, a Chicago writer and author of “China, Inc.”

Chinese President Hu Jintao and a coterie of hundreds of Chinese businessmen arrived in Chicago on Thursay. Chicago is the only stop President Hu is making other than his visit to Washington, D.C. The mayor—and Chicago business leaders—see this as an enormous opportunity. Fishman talked about the significance of China’s visit to Chicago on WBEZ’s Worldview.

Fishman says we’ve seen this kind of thing before. “This is a playbook that the Japanese started.” He says “[China] saw that Japan bought its way out of a lot of tension by spreading big deals around and so they started doing this exact same thing.”

A Chicago visit is significant, says Fishman, because it is “the heart of America’s industrial heartland” and that the companies here are affected the most by China.

“These are the crown jewels of our economy, the top of the knowledge economy and China has the market power to extract this,” he says. China is interested in Chicago’s firms, Fishman believes, because they can gain knowledge on how to run a global company.

Chicago companies are interested in expanding but also in making a profit if deals are struck. In fact, many companies here have already had to learn to do business with China on some level.

As far as longer term goals, Fishman says the U.S. would benefit from an investment strategy that goes beyond short term deals.

“If China can plumb the Midwest that way, Chicago companies at the very top will do well,” he says. “Those that aren’t at the very top have to be very smart about their game plan.”