Wichita’s aggressive marketing of the Air Capital of the World to China is about growing local jobs and the economy, Mayor Carl Brewer said.
“The Chinese are going to need more than people building aircraft,” Brewer said Wednesday. “They need replacement parts; they need all kinds of training. They need infrastructure. We certainly have the expertise to get them what they need.”
Brewer and Karyn Page, president of Kansas Global Trade Services, flew to China last week for the opening of a Wichita-China office in Beijing – the first of its kind – charged with identifying sales and partnering opportunities for Wichita’s aviation industry.
China’s general aviation industry is growing, and the country must set up the infrastructure to support it.
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The idea is to promote the city to China, “so Wichita is the first place they think of for airplanes, parts and services,” Brewer said.
This effort could help Wichita’s smaller companies the most. Large general aviation planemakers such as Beechcraft Corp. and Cessna already have been doing business in China.
The Wichita Aviation Office of China in Beijing will provide a place for Wichita companies to work from and get assistance making contacts and connections, Page said.
When Wichita businesses visit China, they will have a representative to help them.
“Navigating the Chinese market can be daunting,” Page said.
The Chinese will also have a place to turn.
“If we don’t go ahead and do it, there are a lot of other cities and other states that will,” Brewer said.
Brewer said he and Page received an enthusiastic response from Chinese government officials and industry leaders.
Government officials from Xi’an, a city in central China, said they would like to get involved and signed a memo of understanding to open a second Wichita office there.
Next year, Xi’an officials plan to bring a delegation of business leaders to Wichita for practical discussions with aviation businesses. In return, Brewer, Page and the office in Beijing will host a group from Wichita to travel to China for meetings.
The city has no financial stake in the office now, Brewer said. No tax money has been involved. Both offices are essentially public-private partnerships, with original equipment manufacturers in Wichita, including Cessna Aircraft and Beechcraft Corp., and the Chinese themselves providing start-up funding. Page and her staff spent time working on the project.
They are working to get funding for ongoing costs.
“As we grow over there, the council will be looking at the additional opportunities and costs there,” Brewer said. “And the private sector will be looking as well.”
Brewer has met with Kansas Secretary of Commerce Pat George and will brief Gov. Sam Brownback on Friday.
Respect for government
It’s important that the mayor is involved in the effort, Page said.
Business and government are intertwined in China, with government often having the final say on important decisions.
And in a culture that reveres governmental authority, like mayors, Page said Brewer’s presence – at meetings, on television and around the fledgling aviation industry – has been crucial to developing relationships in China.
“They are very respectful of government,” Page said. “They were really excited to see the mayor and very respectful of his office.
“For our mayor to be over there talking to people, shaking hands, doing business, his presence has the potential to be really powerful,” she said.
There are opportunities for Wichita to provide training in the aviation field, such as training for mechanics, air traffic controllers, pilots, fixed base operators and others, Page said.
“The Chinese people need to be trained in almost every area of aviation you can think of,” Page said. “They don’t have the capacity in China to meet that need. They’re looking for foreign sources. We want to make sure they think of Wichita.”
While there, Brewer and Page held a luncheon with the American Chamber of Commerce to announce the opening of the office, attended by the media, representatives of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association and the United States Embassy.
They toured the office in Beijing and met with North Asia General Aviation officials, the hosts and sponsor of the office.
Brewer gave a presentation about Wichita at the China International General Aviation Convention General Aviation summit in Xi’an and held a “Wichita Night,” which drew 100 guests from China’s general aviation industry.
They attended a ceremony in which Beechcraft delivered a King Air C90GTx to the Civil Aviation University of China for use in advanced pilot training.
The effort came after a visit to China by Brewer, Page and other government and economic development officials last year. During the 12-day trip, the delegation met with key government and business officials in six Chinese cities.
The delegation said it realized that the Chinese recognize Wichita as a leader in general aviation, which gives the city an opportunity to market the Air Capital of the World in China.