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Business/Economy

Governor’s trade mission leads to ‘crazy’ Chinese interest in Alaska

Alyeska Resort is getting flooded with inquiries from Chinese tour groups. An Anchorage baby food startup is talking with one of the world's largest sovereign wealth funds. And Chinese officials are soon heading to Alaska to scout possible Olympic winter training grounds.

Participants in Gov. Bill Walker's weeklong trade mission to China last month, designed to enhance ties with the state's largest trading partner, said the trip has led to those opportunities and others.

"We've been getting so much interest from China — the email correspondence has been crazy," said Eric Fullerton, marketing director for Alyeska Resort in Girdwood, on Wednesday.

"I've been back barely a week, and we already have five confirmed group bookings from China," said Fullerton. "It's very exciting. Our sales department is not very happy right now."

Fullerton traveled with the Alaska delegation during the May 19-26 trade mission. Twenty-six entities from multiple industries met with dozens of Chinese businesses, including some of the largest in the world.

Fullerton and others involved in Alaska tourism met with more than 200 travel agency executives and tour operators, he said.

The interest he's seeing now could just be the beginning, he said.

The trade mission sparked efforts to create direct flights to Anchorage from Chinese cities, he said. That would yield a massive tourism boost, shaving many hours off the current indirect flight through Seattle.

"The floodgates will open," Fullerton said.

Fullerton said a group from the Chinese city of Harbin, interested in setting up direct flights to Anchorage, will travel to Alaska this weekend in part to pursue that opportunity.

A Chinese sports delegation is also coming to Girdwood later this month to look at training opportunities there for the country's Winter Olympic athletes, he said. Beijing is hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Walker this week said Alaska companies met with major companies, including e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, often called the Amazon of China.

Alaska Governor Bill Walker and Alaska trade delegates, representing seafood and tourism, visited the Alibaba Group campus in Hangzhou, China. The governor is speaking with Mathieu Ngo-Di, the manager of the Hema Supermarket, part of the Alibaba campus. (Office of the Governor)

Trident Seafoods, which sells Alaska pollock in China through fast-food outlets such as McDonald's, talked with Alibaba about enhancing sales in China. Trident is looking to improve its marketing of Alaska seafood there, directly reaching Chinese consumers and stores through the website, Walker said.

Zoi Maroudas, chief executive of Bambino's Baby Food, an Anchorage company selling organic fresh frozen baby food, said she's also working with Alibaba and Chinese officials to export her Alaska-made product to the country.

Back in Alaska on Tuesday, she met over the phone with China Investment Corp., following up on a meeting with the giant Chinese sovereign wealth fund during the trade mission. They're looking for foreign companies to invest in, possibly hers, she said.

CIC is one of the entities considering signing a deal with the state that could lead to Chinese investment in the $43 billion Alaska LNG project.

Maroudas said she may soon return to China on her own as she advances efforts to sell her baby food there. It will likely be several months, if at all, before exports from Alaska begin.

"It's pretty wonderful, but at the same time you take baby steps," she said.

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