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Editorial: China's future presence in city coming into focus

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REPRESENTATIVES of the public and private sectors in Columbus have been beating well-worn paths to China for several decades in efforts to build strong business relationships with that country.

Those efforts have required a great deal of patience, but they’ve borne fruit.

Cummins Inc., in particular, has been extremely successful in establishing a strong presence in the Asian country. It can be argued that the company’s relationship with China has been one of the major factors in its phenomenal business growth over the past decade.

In fact, the then-named Cummins Engine Co. was one of the first American businesses that reached out to the communist country shortly after a long-standing international impasse had been eased by President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China in 1973.

Two years later Cummins Chairman J. Irwin Miller, his wife, Xenia, and engineer Joe Butler were part of a trade delegation that had struck a deal to sell construction equipment to China for use in an open pit iron mine. More than a dozen Cummins KV12 engines were part of the package.

From that modest beginning, Cummins has developed into a major player in the China trade through joint ventures, production facilities and significant purchases of Cummins products by customers in China. From a local perspective, the relationship has resulted in hundreds of added jobs in and around Columbus.

For more than a decade now city officials and the Columbus Economic Development Board have been pursuing a China policy, hopeful that it can lead to significant arrangements that will increase capital investment in the community and create added jobs in the area.

Local officials had a model to follow in highly successful outreaches to businesses in Japan that began in the 1980s and picked up steam in subsequent years.

Since Enkei America Moldings Inc. began operations in 1985, 20 other Japanese companies have elected to invest in Bartholomew County, adding thousands of jobs to the local workforce.

Development of the China trade has been much slower for local supporters, due in no small part to a methodical approach taken to business investments in that country.

Columbus sent its first delegation to China in 1998, and local government and business leaders have followed a patient and progressive philosophy in deepening the relationship.

Only four companies with ties to China have established presences in Columbus, but other steps have been taken that could lead to even more significant investments. For instance, Columbus has two sister city relationships in China — Xiangyang City and Wuxi.

A number of Chinese government and business delegations have visited Columbus, and educational partnerships are being developed with the Ivy Tech Columbus campus and Chinese schools.

The progressive development of the relationship was evidenced by optimistic reports from the most recent visit to the country by local business and economic development officials. Announcement of the opening of a Columbus office in a large economic zone was one of the concrete results to emerge for a delegation led by Mayor Kristen Brown and Columbus Economic Development Board President Jason Hester but even more promising were indications that a dozen potential investment opportunities existed, several of which were considered strong leads.

More patience will be required in the immediate future, but the efforts that have been put forth so far finally appear to be yielding results that could benefit this and future generations of Columbus residents.

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