Cabinet plans Kentucky business development mission to China

FRANKFORT, Ky. — The Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development this month will lead a business development trip to China, further strengthening diplomatic ties and securing economic opportunities between the commonwealth and the world’s second-largest economy.

Erran Persley, commissioner for business development, and International Project Manager Bruce Zou will embark on a weeklong journey across China to promote Kentucky as an ideal landing spot for companies, meet with investors and identify opportunities for potential projects in the commonwealth. Their efforts will also bolster relationships with Chinese companies currently operating in Kentucky while fueling future growth by establishing new connections.

“In Kentucky we continue to lead the way at the subnational level with yet another business development trip abroad to China,” said Vivek Sarin, Cabinet for Economic Development interim secretary. “As we continue to build relationships with Chinese businesses and seek investment opportunities, we are executing our long-term strategy to tap into the enormous opportunities that exist in China. We are confident that this will lead to more jobs for Kentuckians.”

The delegation will also attend the Smart China Expo, a global four-day summit expected to attract tens of thousands of visitors, business leaders and innovators along with hundreds of companies at the forefront of revolutionizing innovation. The event will take place from Aug. 26-29 in Southwest China’s Chongqing municipality. Last year’s inaugural expo, also held in Chongqing, drew about 630,000 visitors over a three-day span, with more than 500 companies represented. Representatives of multiple businesses operating in Kentucky plan to attend, including Lexmark and GE Appliances — both owned by Chinese companies — Humana, Toyota, Yum! Brands, Brown-Forman, Microsoft and more.

Business and economic development professionals from across Kentucky are invited to attend the expo portion of the trip.

Officials’ travels throughout China provide an opportunity to further strengthen sectors in which Kentucky ranks as a national leader, including advanced manufacturing, ag-tech, logistics and health care.

“As international businesses seek to locate facilities in the United States, we are making it a point to visit these countries and personally show foreign-owned companies why Kentucky is the best place for them to set up shop,” Persley said. “The commonwealth’s strong, supportive business climate is very appealing when companies are considering a US location, and these economic development missions go a long way toward jumpstarting transformative projects for our communities.”

Kentucky is leading the way in laying the groundwork for future investment opportunities between the US and China, which respectively represent the world’s largest and second-largest economies. Kentucky’s delegation to China follows the U.S.-China Governors Collaboration Summit, a gathering of both US and Chinese leaders this past May in Lexington, which promoted further collaboration and economic development between China’s provinces and US states. Kentucky earned the opportunity to host the summit thanks to an economic development mission to China in November 2018, led by Gov. Matt Bevin.

­­­Currently, 11 Chinese-owned companies operate facilities in Kentucky and employ nearly 9,000 people, including the 6,000-plus employees at GE Appliance Park in Louisville and 1,600-plus employees of Lexington-based manufacturer Lexmark.

On Friday, Chinese-owned manufacturer Phoenix Paper Wickliffe announced plans to invest $200 million in Ballard County to construct a new, 100,000-square-foot paper-and-pulp recycling facility in Ballard County. In May, Phoenix Paper reopened the former Verso Corp. paper mill in Ballard County, which had employed roughly 310 people before the mill was idled in late 2015 and closed in July 2016. That original $150 million investment in addition to the company’s recently announced $200 million Phase II investment are on their way to creating 500 well-paying jobs in West Kentucky. About 240 of those 500 positions are currently filled.

Additionally, several projects by Chinese-owned companies are underway at the recently established International Fisheries Industrial Park in West Kentucky’s Ballard County. The park’s tenants focus on processing invasive Asian Carp into internationally appealing products. Those ventures are expected to create a total of about 150 jobs.

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