GR Chamber making the China connection
When Dick Haslinger joined the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce’s recent trip to China, he decided to mix a little business with his vacation.
As West Michigan president of JPMorgan Chase, Haslinger knows his customers are active in the communist nation across the Pacific Ocean.
“I wanted to visit China because it’s an important country in the world to my clients and it’s a huge market for West Michigan companies to try to access to sell their goods and services,” Haslinger said.
So while most of the self-paid trip was devoted to tourism, Haslinger detoured to visit the factory of GHSP Shanghai, a subsidiary of his customer, JSJ Corp. of Grand Haven. He also visited JPMorgan Chase’s Shanghai office. He said he found few differences between the Chinese business operations and counterparts he’s seen in the U.S.
Haslinger said he expects that simply having witnessed China for himself will make him a better informed businessman.
“I can read about 1.3 billion people, but it doesn’t hit you till you get there and see,” Haslinger said. “The city of Shanghai has the people of Michigan and Ohio combined. When we got near big cities, the traffic was huge, and it’s still a small percentage of the population (that) owns vehicles.”
Haslinger was one of 30 local participants in the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce-sponsored trip in March and April, said COO Laurie Forte. Another trip is planned for November.
“This is the first time that this chamber has done anything like this,” Forte said. “We decided the timing was right to do something to give our members access at a very low cost to a bigger world. The world does not revolve around just West Michigan, as much as we want to believe so.”
Working with a travel agency, Citslinc International, which handles chambers exclusively, the trip was offered at an economical $1,800 per person, including airfare, hotels and meals, Forte said. She said chamber leaders are hoping the trip being planned for the fall will attract 80 to 100 people who work for the organization’s 3,000 member companies.
The spring trip drew couples, singles, retirees and young adults, Forte said, and included several travelers who, like Haslinger, took advantage of the opportunity to make some business connections.
“The immenseness of the market — if I could sell a light bulb to everybody,” Haslinger mused. “It cemented my belief that our customers can be successful there.”