The New York Times today has an interesting article on how the Rust Belt city of Toledo, Ohio — population 280,000 — became a magnet for Chinese industrial, land, and business investments in less than a decade. Hundreds of trade reps and businesspeople have traveled back and forth in both directions, along with political officials. Many millions of dollars worth of investments in Toledo have resulted from these exchanges, as have deeper cultural ties.
In part it was lucky geography and its old manufacturing base:
“They looked on a map, figured out where we were sitting and saw the benefit,” said Mayor Bell, a gregarious former University of Toledo defensive lineman, referring to Toledo’s location near a number of large cities in the United States and Canada. “They could see that this town needed to be helped a little bit and that it could be on the upswing — that there was potential, that they could do something, that it could be incredible and it would not probably take a whole lot to do.”
[…] The city is a major transit hub, crossed by railways and highways, and has the busiest general cargo port in the Great Lakes region. Housing is affordable, and the abandoned factories, including those where windows, bottles and windshields were once made and shipped around the world, mean there is plenty of space.
But the city has also hauled in extensive investments with trade missions to China that are out-performing much bigger cities and even state governments. That may be somewhat cultural and because of, not despite, Toledo’s relatively small size:
The city’s informal “handshake culture” has also helped, Chinese and American business officials said, as deals that might unravel amid the bureaucratic machinations of a bigger city can be completed in Toledo in a matter of weeks.
It seems that in a globalized world, direct local diplomacy and local trade isn’t just for the cities and communities in the heartlands of the developing world. It’s possible to form such links here at home.