One Billion Served?

OPB | April 3, 2008 midnight | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 8:40 p.m.

Is the Northwest ideally poised to become a hub for businesses catering to the Chinese consumer?

A few weeks ago, the San Diego Padres and the Los Angeles Dodgers played two exhibition games in Beijing. They were the first Major League Baseball games ever to be played in China. MLB is trying to win over Chinese sports fans (who currently favor basketball and soccer), but it’s really just just one example of a broader shift: viewing China as an enormous market of potential consumers, not merely a source of cheap goods and labor.

And while China may soon become the world’s biggest consumer, the government has held on to some troubling habits from its decades of repressive rule — sometimes with the acceptance (or even participation) of American companies. The government is currently blocking internet access to YouTube, to prevent its citizens from seeing images of Tibetan protestors clashing with police. And Google purges search results that displease Chinese authorities.

Questions of not just free but fair trade have dogged U.S. corporations for as long as they have done business with China. If these questions came to the fore when China was mainly seen as a labor market, how do they change when China rises as a consumer force?

But more basically, is the Northwest ideally poised to become a hub for businesses catering to the Chinese consumer? (Washington is already the number two exporter to China among U.S. states; Oregon is number 10.) What business opportunities exist for American entrepreneurs? What businesses might not be able to compete in the Chinese market?

Have you dealt with China as a market for your goods or services? What are the cultural or bureaucratic challenges that you’ve faced? Is this potentially huge reservoir of customers worth the investment?

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