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China relationships offer glimpse of a path to shape our future

  • Author: Bill Walker
    | Opinion
  • Updated: June 9, 2018
  • Published June 9, 2018

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker and Alaska trade delegates, representing seafood and tourism, visited the Alibaba Group campus in Hangzhou, China. They were hosted by Bill Anaya, Head of Government Affairs for the Americas, and members of the Alibaba Group team. The group also visited a Hema Market, owned and run by Alibaba, on May 28, 2018. (Office of the Governor)

Alaskans deserve the ability to determine what our future looks like rather than being at the whim of faraway political and economic forces. That is a key part of my vision for our future, and one way we can turn that into a reality is by establishing and fostering strong economic partnerships between our state and the world.

Last week, as I traveled through China with a delegation of 40 Alaska business leaders, it was clearer than ever that we have all the tools we need to create a diverse economy that will sustain us for generations. We already have a strong, longstanding trade relationship with China, which has purchased more from
Alaska than any other country has for the past several years. Our delegation met with existing business partners, forged links with new ones, improved government-to-government relationships, and found ways to grow economic opportunities at home and abroad.

Seeing our trade delegation draw on homegrown values to support each other was one of the most inspiring and productive parts of our trip. Alaskans know the power of collaboration. Our strength is greatest when working together, whether timber-framing a new house or sharing the week's catch of salmon.

Businesses like Trident Seafoods, Copper River Seafoods and Icicle Seafoods continually stood in unison to advocate the unparalleled quality of our wild-caught seafood. Conveying the quality of Alaska fish is critical, as the growing Chinese middle class is increasingly hungry for fresh, healthy seafood.

That teamwork helped companies like Bambino's Baby Food, which uses wild Alaska fish and Alaska-grown vegetables in its products. Folks in China were intrigued. They just need to know where they can buy the products Alaskans already know and love. Bambino's success in China will have a direct impact
on farmers and fishermen.

Our tourism businesses also showcased the unique experiences Alaska has to offer visitors year-round. President Xi Jinping called Alaska China's "Shangri-la" last year, which has already led to an uptick in tourism — and not just during summer tour season. Chinese visitors are interested in coming to Alaska in winter, to see the northern lights, ski and snowboard, and to simply experience our vast, open wilderness, which stands in stark contrast to life in urban China.

Full hotels in winter mean thousands of new year-round jobs in communities that currently boom when it gets warm and bust when it gets dark. The Fairbanks Economic Development Corp. and Explore Fairbanks helped promote winter tourism statewide: it's a great way to maximize existing infrastructure, and creates a market for Alaska products when visitors return home to China, remembering and sharing their experiences. My work to develop direct Alaska-China flights will improve both tourism and cargo capacity for what Alaska offers.

Establishing Winter Olympic training facilities is another brand-new opportunity. When President Xi visited Alaska last April, we discussed the possibility of Chinese Olympic athletes training at Eagle Glacier, Alaska Pacific University's 11-month cross-country skiing facility. Now, that idea will become a reality. During the trade mission, APU President Robert Onders signed a memorandum of understanding with Heilongjiang Province to move forward with creation of world-class, year-international round winter sport training facilities in Alaska. Members of our delegation met with Chinese Sports Minister Gou Zhongwen to discuss their ski and hockey teams training in Alaska.

Chinese delegations are already heading to Alaska to continue working toward deals. Leaders from Harbin are visiting Anchorage business partners like the Anchorage Economic Development Association, and to scope key locations like the Anchorage Museum, Alyeska Hotel, and the Anchorage airport in person. China's sports minister, Gou Zhongwen, will be in Alaska later this month to advance creation of Winter Olympic facilities.

Our delegation was formed to showcase what Alaska has to offer. We came home knowing that we didn't need to hope: the only reason Alaska's products and experiences aren't already internationally recognized is because we just haven't told our story yet. That changed in China.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

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