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How Galt and Lodi might build new links to China

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Posted: Saturday, October 6, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 5:05 am, Sat Oct 6, 2012.

In July of this year, the Lodi and Galt Chambers of Commerce jointly welcomed a delegation from the Guangxi Beibu Gulf Investment Group, a large-scale state-owned enterprise which manages over $3.5 billion in assets in Guangxi, China.

Thanks to their invitation, I just finished visiting the lovely Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Although this was my first time to Guangxi, I have traveled to China seven times since 2008.

Nanning, Guangxi's capital city, is an easy two-hour flight from Shanghai. As little as 10 years ago, much of Nanning was rice fields, but today it is the urban home to over 6 million of the 55 million people living in the region. Nanning is a beautiful combination of the modern and the ancient, an amazing gateway to numerous world-class business and tourism opportunities. The people are amazingly gracious, and appreciate foreign visitors.

On one hand it is the permanent home to the China-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Expo, and the other it is near some of the world's most famous and beautiful landscapes, such as the Lijiang River in Guilin. While many Americans may not know Lijiang River by name, they most likely have seen landscape paintings of it hanging on their local Chinese restaurant walls.

Although this China trip lasted two weeks, and was extended an extra five days longer than I originally planned, my schedule was still too tight to allow me time to visit Guilin for some sightseeing. Floating down the Lijiang River with some local fishermen is definitely on my bucket list, but I had other, more pressing priorities. This trip's focus has been on strategizing with local Guangxi business leaders so that California can better assist in feeding China's increasingly hungry population, while at the same time bringing much-needed jobs and returned prosperity to our entire region.

I remember the day it hit page six of the local papers that I was the new executive director of the Galt Chamber. The headlines read "BANKRUPT!" referring to the city of Stockton. The several years I spent as a grunt battling Stockton crime as both a correctional officer and a bounty hunter has forever framed my perspective. Thinking of Stockton's bankruptcy where at the same time the state is discussing moving criminals back into the county jails is the equivalent of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

I learned long ago that sometimes the solution to a problem is not to wait, but rather to kick down a door. As my friend Tie Zhang says, "Aggressively waiting for the phone to ring results in an empty rice bowl." We need to take action. "China has money, but needs food. The U.S. has food, but desperately needs money. This can be win-win, but it will take real leadership and hard work," a British equity investor told me over an enlightening dinner in the Pudong District. He reminded me that for the first time last October, China announced that its urban population had officially passed the 50 percent mark. Rough numbers are a 690 million urban Chinese population vs. a 656 million rural Chinese population. Imagine, just 60 years ago 90 percent of China was rural.

Today, from my hotel room in Shanghai, I can see an ocean of high-rise developments that did not exist 10 to 15 years ago. This rapid urbanization means formerly self-sufficient but poor people now drive shiny brand new cars, but need to rely on others to feed them.

Californians need a combination of real local job creation strategies and much better management of existing natural and human resources. A good local example of good governance based on sound business principals is the Port of Stockton, which, by the way, is 100 percent separate from the nearby Stockton municipality.

Our region is blessed with the world's best climate, the best soil, a precious but fragile navigable water resource called the Delta and a system of government that, it is hoped, still rewards innovation and entrepreneurship. We have both the capability and the responsibility to be the breadbasket to the world.

The Port of Oakland currently ships out roughly $6 billion in agricultural exports. With the new complimentary services available at the nearby Port of Stockton, this number can be increased dramatically. One study claims an additional $1 billion in U.S. exports creates 5,400 local jobs.

A high-ranking gentleman from the original Guangxi delegation, Mr. Lining He, has scheduled his return to California the same day I return. "No time to waste," was his explanation.

Considering how badly China needs the food and we need the jobs, I appreciate and respect this sense of urgency.

Frank Gayaldo is the executive director of the Galt Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at gayaldofarms@aol.com.

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