Don't label it a junket. This is a sales call.
While some trips by politicians to foreign lands might not seem worth the jet fuel, Nebraska's trade mission to China has a real, dollars-and-cents bottom line.
It is a long way from Omaha to Beijing. But as reporting by The World-Herald's Paul Goodsell is showing, there are economic ties between Nebraska and China that are worth strengthening and expanding.
China, with 1.3 billion people, is a global economic powerhouse. Its emerging middle class makes up a quarter of the population, and half of those living in cities. China in 2010 was the world's second-largest economy, after the United States.
China also is one of the biggest buyers of Nebraska agricultural and manufactured products. Nebraska shipped more than $380 million worth of goods to China last year, making it the state's fourth-largest overseas customer behind Canada, Mexico and Japan. And China's economy has been growing, by about 9 percent a year.
As Gov. Dave Heineman, who is heading the latest trade mission, rightly observed: “It would be foolish to leave this huge market alone.”
Heineman is being accompanied by officials of 25 Nebraska companies, academic institutions, law firms and agencies. The wide range of enterprises taking part is a good indication of how diverse the Chinese market has become. The delegation includes a maker of steel poles, a builder of pipe organs, a popcorn company and one that makes an ethanol-based product used to in “greener” plastics.
One consequence of China's population control policies makes it one of the most rapidly aging countries in the world. The number of Chinese aged 65 and older is projected to top the total U.S. population in 30 years. What's that matter? On Monday, a one-year anniversary ceremony was held for Right at Home China, the newest international franchise of the homecare services provider that originated in Nebraska.
Selling goods and services isn't the only reason to foster links with China. Over the past three years, the governor noted, China has been the second most active investor in Nebraska. He said that includes six new investments in addition to five Chinese companies locating their main U.S. operations in the state.
Nebraska universities, too, benefit from the relationship. The schools are drawing Chinese students, and their out-of-state tuition.
It is a long way from Omaha to Beijing. But opening doors, establishing and nurturing relationships can bridge that distance. It's just good business.