Editor’s note: Harvey Schmitt, chief executive officer of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, spoke to business leaders from across China at the U.S.-China Investment Cooperation Forum in Beijing on Tuesday about business opportunities in the capital city area as well as North Carolina. The U.S. delegation met with China’s Vice Premier Li Keqiang and had dinner in the Great Hall of the People.

“The conversation was often macro, but Lenovo was prominent throughout,” Schmitt tells WRAL.

In a speech at the Beijing International Hotel, he cited at length the growing presence of China-born Lenovo, the world’s No. 2 PC manufacturer which operates its executive headquarters in Morrisville. WRAL News requested permission to reprint Schmitt’s remarks. The full text follows.

BEIJING - Good morning, and greetings from Raleigh North Carolina, the US home of Lenovo. It is a pleasure to be with you on my second visit to Beijing, and share with you my perspectives on support that Chinese companies can expect from local chambers of commerce when they invest in the United States – and in particular Raleigh, and the Research Triangle Region of North Carolina.

The Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce is a 2,300 member business organization whose members employ two thirds of the private sector workforce in Wake County, North Carolina. Membership is voluntary and companies both large and small join to help their company and community prosper. As an example Lenovo is an active Chamber member and a representative of the company serves on the Chamber’s Executive Committee.

The Greater Raleigh Chamber serves Raleigh, the Capital of North Carolina (population of 400,000) and Wake County (population of one million.) The Chamber also provides services to eleven other cities in Wake County, and partners with a regional organization in serving a larger 13- county Research Triangle Region (population 2.3 million)

In the US (at the community level) you will find both government and private organizations that are available to help companies consider US investment. Every community of any size in America will have a local Chamber of Commerce that provides services to individuals and companies. Chambers of Commerce are not government. They are private (founded and funded by private business) to foster growth and prosperity among their members and in the communities they serve.

The Mission of the Greater Raleigh Chamber is to promote expansion of the economy, and improve the quality of life in the community. A great living environment attracts intellectual talent and talent attracts jobs.

The Greater Raleigh Chamber has three primary lines of business.

The first line of business is Community Sales. We promote our community to companies looking to relocate or expand so we can create jobs for our citizens. We conduct this part of our work in partnership with the City of Raleigh and Wake County governments.

The second line of business is Community Development. We encourage local, state and federal governments to implement policies and infrastructure investments (water, sewer, transportation, education, arts, recreation and sports) that will allow our community to compete for jobs both domestically and globally.

The third line of business is Member Services. We provide specific services to our members, for example:

  • Networking with other companies
  • Marketing to other companies
  • Discounts on services, and
  • Educational programs

As the community sales organization, chambers are often the official economic development agency in their community. At no expense to you, they will help you identify and secure the specific benefits/incentives you can receive from local and state governments. If a Chamber of Commerce is not the official economic development agency, they will direct you to the local organization (private or government) that is. The important thing to remember about local Chambers of Commerce is that they have great knowledge about the market they serve. They can provide you information about the local economy, business climate, culture and quality of living.

Let me offer, as an example, the services our organization provides companies. If you were considering doing business in Raleigh, in Wake County and in North Carolina, there are three levels of government – all of whom would have support to offer your company. To navigate through those levels of government, you will need a dedicated guide to help you, and we can provide you that direction and make sure you get the best service available.

Our first conversation would be with the state of North Carolina. They have the most tools to help a company.

State of North Carolina

• Introduction to the Governor, and other top elected and appointed state officials
• Coordination with the North Carolina Department of Commerce International Division
• Access to Job Development Investment Grants, One North Carolina cash grants, tax credits, and customized job training grants

Wake County

• Introduction to local elected officials and executive staff members
• Coordination with Wake County Economic Development officials
• Access to the Wake County Business investment Grant

City of Raleigh Support

• Introduction to the Mayor of Raleigh, and key city staff members
• Coordination with Raleigh Economic Development
• Access to City of Raleigh job creation and investment based cash grants

All levels require the creation of jobs, or capital investment, or both, to gain government financial support. At each point during this process, the Chamber can provide the local knowledge you need for a successful effort.

Another area of consideration, as you examine possible locations, is the local Chinese culture. The Chamber can make introductions to Chinese cultural and business organizations to assist you and your company on a harmonious transition to the new community.

Wake County, for instance, has a vibrant Asian population of over 50,000 individuals with a number of support groups. In our region we have three internationally renowned research universities, all of which have major Chinese student populations and many Chinese alumni who have returned to work in China.

  • North Carolina State University (Confucius Institute at NCSU)
  • UNC Chapel Hill
  • Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business is deeply committed to China - With a world-class campus under construction in Kunshan, office space in downtown Shanghai, and an alumni presence throughout the country, it is active and engaged in the future of China

In addition, we have a number of free-standing Chinese institutions that offer a variety of personal connections that can help build your local network:

• Carolina China Council (CCC) 
• North Carolina China Center 
• North Carolina Chinese Business Association NCCBA 
• Chinese Association of Science and Technology CAST-NC 
• China Star Newspaper 

I know there are many questions on how Chinese investment in the US is viewed by Americans. Let me share with you the Raleigh perspective of our friends at Lenovo. Lenovo arrived in Raleigh through acquisition. In 2005, they acquired the Personal Computer Division of IBM, which was located in Research Triangle Park near Raleigh.

When the announcement was made, there were many who voiced concern that a Chinese company had taken over an iconic American brand, and about Chinese influence in the US. There were anxieties about potential job losses as many assumed the business might be moved to China. But those concerns never materialized, and I am happy to say that Lenovo is a well-respected and valued partner in the life and future of Raleigh and Wake County.

Lenovo leadership was very wise in quickly reaching out to local government and community organizations. Shortly after the acquisition was announced, I met with representatives of the company as they assured me that they were very interested in making their new company an active and engaged corporate citizen.

Since many of the core leaders of the Personal Computer Division had lived in the community for some time, they were often the face of Lenovo in the early days. Over time more and more leaders came to North Carolina from China to live and work, and they were introduced to community leaders through meetings both on and off Lenovo’s North Carolina campus. And, of course, the 2008 Olympics sponsored by Lenovo offered us an opportunity to become more acquainted and proud of our new neighbor.

Lenovo has encouraged its team to engage in community leadership roles. One of their core values is donating time and resources to philanthropy: Lenovo and its employees are committed to helping those less fortunate, and, when disaster strikes, to lending a helping-hand to those who are in difficult circumstances. In addition, Lenovo has committed 1 percent of its pre-tax income to programs and initiatives that serve society to address issues in areas of great need, no matter where those areas or issues happen to be.

The important lesson is that assimilation in the US requires that commitments are made to communicate and engage, both from the company and the community, and when that happens, both the community and company will prosper.

Let me close by noting that North Carolina is the home of almost 20 Chinese owned or operated companies, three of which are in Wake County. Each of them came to our state through different circumstances. There is no specific or official method. In the US business arrangements can come through many doors.

Here are some options to consider:

  • The first are consultants that help companies make corporate real estate deals and investments. Well-known and respected companies that have a strong Chinese presence include Jones Lang Lassalle, and CBRE Commercial Real Estate (each has 10 or more locations in China.)
  • The second is a US based global Law Firms. Those with North Carolina Connections include K&L Gates in China since 2000, Hunton and Williams in China since 2004, and Kilpatrick Townsend which is opening an office this year. They often can give both legal and real estate advice.
  • A third avenue of support can be a relationship with someone from a Chinese-American business, cultural organization, or university. These can be extremely valuable in understanding the character of the communities you consider. I would suggest, however, that you not rely on their support alone, as competent legal and real estate representation will likely give you more professional evaluations.
  • Another option would be using your own research, and then reaching out to the China offices of the states in which you have interest and seek their assistance. The State of North Carolina Mainland China Office is managed by Marlinda Ma, the Trade and Investment Representative. We are currently working with two companies referred to us by her Office.

Finally, whenever the timing is right in your process, the local Chamber of Commerce is a free and independent support organization that can give you the local knowledge you need to determine whether their community is the best place for you and your company. As we say at the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce “we open doors every day.”

Thank you

 [LENOVO ARCHIVE: Check out six years of Lenovo stories as reported in WRAL Tech Wire.]