A delegation of Sealy officials recently returned from a 12-day economic development trip to China and reported that it far exceeded their expectations.
“We feel that the amount of money we spent, if we had spent it on an ad we wouldn’t have had any fruit but we are already showing the fruit of what’s going on and we believe that in the next two to three years there’s a possibility there may be several other fabricators and facilities within the city of Sealy limits that will invest in our community,” Wyn McCready, president of the Sealy Economic Development Corporation, said in a report last week to the Seay City Council.
McCready, Sealy EDC Director Robert Worley, and Sealy ISD Superintendent Sheryl Moore made the trip Oct. 28 to Nov. 9 as part of a delegation from the Greater Houston Partnership. City Manager Lloyd Merrell was slated to go but backed out at the last minute due to illness.
The trip garnered controversy when members of the city council questioned its financing and chided Worley about forcing it on them without adequate time for them to respond. As a result, Worley opted to have McCready make the report and declined to comment for this story except to say that the trip was a success and that “a follow-up trip is necessary.”
After arriving in Shanghai, the Sealy delegation split from the rest of the group and went to Hangzhou and then to Zhuji, the home base of Hailiang, a company that is locating a copper tube manufacturing facility in Sealy.
“The plant was spotless; you could eat off the floors,” McCready said. “It was very well run. We not only got a tour of their facility that makes copper tubing, they make a number of other products as well. They employ 4,500 people at this plant. They virtually built the entire city to support the plant. So Zhuji city is there as a result of Hailiang.”
McCready said the Sealy group was overwhelmed by what awaited them in China.
“Hailiang is very well thought of in China. The fact that we scored them as a business entity here in Sealy gave us significant credibility. We were very well received by all the people that we were introduced to,” McCready said. “We asked them to introduce us to five companies. They introduced us to 10 sets of five. We had doors thrown open to us in many different businesses. They got us into Alibaba, they got us into Greenland, they got us into Blossom, they got us into Red – Red is a Chinese version of Twitter. We didn’t just meet with a representative, we met with CEOs, we met with the people who were in position to make decisions.”
As a result of the trip, at least one and possibly more companies are making plans to visit Sealy next year, with one scheduled for February.
“It’s not normal that you make a trip like that and have someone ready to come by February,” Merrell commented.
In addition, Hailiang officials have already offered to pay for a student exchange this summer.
Michael Jiang, the company’s director of investment, “met with the school superintendent and he’s asked her to recruit 14-15 Sealy graduates this year who would be interested in working at Hailiang to … take them, and pay their way along with a chaperone, and take them to China to work at Hailiang and learn the Chinese way; spend two to four weeks there,” McCready said. “In the meantime, he’d like to send 14 or 15 Chinese youths over here as well. That way, when these students come back, if they cut the mustard and make the grade, they have a job at Hailiang.”
Jiang served as a guide and translator for the Sealy delegation.
Speaking later in an interview in her office, Moore said she was excited about the potential for a student exchange.
“Their plan is to take 10-15 of our graduates this year to China to be interns to learn how to do the work that we’re going to be doing at the plant here in Sealy,” she said.
“It’s going to be pretty competitive to see who gets chosen to do this. If they’ll go, they’ll learn how to do it, they’ll come back and those kids are going to get in on the ground floor of Hailiang with lots of opportunities for advancement,” Moore added.
“When I began working with Hailiang, I told them I wanted to supply their very best workers,” Moore continued. “I want our kids to be able to graduate and stay in Sealy and make a good living. And they really took me at my word. So already it’s paying dividends.”
Now comes the tricky part.
“We’ve got to find kids that might be interested in a little adventure then want to come home and live and work and raise families here,” she said.
In his report to the city council, McCready said not only did Hailiang give them the royal treatment, but the entire Greater Houston Partnership delegation was also kept busy the entire trip with meetings and tours. He said they were at breakfast by 6:30 a.m. and out to meetings from 7 a.m. until returning to their hotel around 9 p.m.
“Michael Jiang… opened many, many doors for us during our time there. We met with all their city officials, we met with a number of different businesses in the Zhuji City area, we had probably at least a dozen meeting with officials and business owners in both Zhuji City and Shanghai,” McCready said.
The last two days were spent at the Chinese International Import Exposition.
“This was an exposition that was attended by several million people. The explosion center was a four-story building with exposition booths on every floor and it was probably the size of four to six Astrodomes. It was massive,” McCready said.
McCready said when Hailiang was looking to locate another facility in the United States, they came to the U.S. Consulate General with “a half-dozen different locations on the map that they were considering to move to. They were also looking at Japan.
“They’re very interested in Boston because education is such a significant part and way of life there. They wanted to be close to Harvard and MIT. But the bottom line was, when all things were said and done, we were in contention with a city in Kentucky, but they liked the way that we received them. They appreciated our openness, and even though our incentives were not as great as the other city, they chose Sealy and they stand behind the decision they’ve made,” McCready said.
The Chinese value on education made Moore’s participation crucial. One of the criticisms the city council had about the trip was the use of EDC funding to send a Sealy ISD representative. McCready and Moore said Moor’s participation was essential to the trip’s success.
“As you all know, we took Sheryl Moore with us – I just mentioned that education is a vital part of Chinese culture – it is number one. I guess you have government at the top and you have to do what government says, but next the priority for every family member is that their kids get the best education,” McCready said. “They have sort of a standard for education that we saw back in the ’60s when Kennedy was president.”
“Hailiang has a second income stream and that is education. They’re the largest private educator in China,” McCready noted. “They school 61,000 children from pre-K up to high school. Three years ago, they just finished a 200-acre facility that is probably more complete, more thorough, more excellent than any college or university in the United States. It is massive. The teachers live on site. They’re from all over the world.”
When she left for the trip, Moore didn’t realize how important a role she would play.
“So, when they introduced everybody, I thought I was an afterthought. That is not the case,” Moore said. “They were as interested, if not more interested, in the educational opportunities as they were in the business in many respects.”
In addition to meeting with government and business officials, the Sealy group also got to visit schools.
“We visited one of the campuses with 13,000 students on it and those students start with English and Chinese in kindergarten,” Moore said. “By third grade, they have to choose their third language and the expectation is that when they graduate from high school they will attend college in the country of their third language. Their goal, their stated goal, is they want to have Hailiang graduates studying in every country in the world.”
She said it was eye-opening and refreshing as an educator to see how much the Chinese people value education.
“One of the ladies traveling with me told me the parents will do without what we would consider essential things in order for their children to have a really good opportunity and education. They see that as a core value. They have failed as a parent if they haven’t given their kids the best opportunities for learning that they possibly can. Here we take it for granted,” she said.
Moore said that about half of the people who visited the Houston delegation’s booth at the expo wanted to talk about education.
“So, for them to go without a representative that understands education doesn’t make sense. It’s woven into everything they do. That’s where we’re missing the mark here. We think of education as a separate thing and for them, it is woven into everything, so you need to have somebody there that can speak that language,” Moore said.
McCready and Moore wanted to address concerns circulating in Sealy regarding the recruitment of Chinese companies.
“I’ve been told that there’s sort of a redneck element in Sealy that is concerned that we’re going to become a Chinatown. I can tell you that is not the intention for these companies,” McCready said. “Hailiang is going to have a facility of 250 people and they’re probably not going to have more than 25 Chinese people here. They’re going to be on visas; they’re not going to be able to stay. These people simply want to be treated decently. They want to be received by the community. They want to integrate and become an active part and take an active role in making this a better place to live.”
Moore said there is very little accommodation the city or the school district would have to make for Chinese workers coming here.
“Generally speaking, they’re going to have 20 to 30 Chinese come. The bulk of their workforce is going to be local. And of those that come, generally speaking, they do not bring their families. Their families will stay in China and they will go back and forth every month or so,” she said.
“It doesn’t look like we’re going to have to gear up for any ESL (English as a Second language). Now the flip side of that is what opportunities might we have? The language most spoken on this Earth is Mandarin. There are more English speakers in China than there are in the U.S., so could this be an opportunity for our kids to learn Mandarin? Probably,” she said. “They would be happy to do any kind of partnership we want, but that’s down the road. But we will not have to make any adjustments at all.”
Moore and McCready both said that Sealy benefitted not only from the relationships forged in China, but also with their fellow delegates from the Greater Houston Partnership.
“We’ve also made 20 friends through the delegation that we traveled with who have already recommended businesses for us to consider. Furthermore, one of those delegates is the head of the Asian Chamber of Commerce in Houston and he is going to come out here and help us quite a bit on trying to make sure that we secure the business that we need,” McCready said.
The council received the report but had no questions and took no action.