Mayor Column: Strengthening U.S. China Relations Starts at the Local Level

Throughout Sioux Falls’ history, our economy has looked outward to sell our goods—especially our agricultural commodities. Today, our region ships fire trucks, display boards, prepackaged food, and ag products all over the world. Sioux Falls is part of the global marketplace and there is a multitude of opportunities to expand our reach.

I recently returned from the inaugural mayoral delegation trip with the U.S. Heartland China Association. Along with three other mayors, we each had the opportunity to promote our hometowns and hold productive conversations with current and future partners. Through conversations at the Chinese Ministry of Commerce and the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, government leaders in Guangzhou, Beijing, and Shenzhen, and numerous private business tours, I was able to discuss the unique advantages of Sioux Falls as well as why these leaders should keep Sioux Falls in discussions that often only focus on major population centers along the coasts.

For many of those I met, this was their first introduction to Sioux Falls. The message from the delegation and me was that the workforce and innovation needed for business and cultural relationship success lives in the U.S. Heartland. I accomplished my goal of strengthening relationships with Chinese municipalities and promoting business partnerships with Midwest communities.

There were several key takeaways, but a few I want to highlight that specifically affect our city as we discuss strong United States-China relations.

First, the trade tensions with China affect us all. Every business I talked with—from drone manufacturers to poultry processors—discussed their desire to see a swift end to these trade tensions. For South Dakota, our agricultural community has felt this impact more than any other population. The sooner it is resolved, the better it will be for the Sioux Falls and South Dakota economies. I know our federal delegation is working very diligently on this matter, and I am confident in a timely resolution.

Second, it is time that Sioux Falls looks at developing deeper, more consistent relationships with key Chinese communities and businesses. Both the city leaders of Guangzhou and Shenzhen—with populations of 20 million each—expressed interest in forming some government partnership between Sioux Falls and one of their city districts. These relationships are critical first steps in establishing both trust and economic partnerships between our communities. One of our largest employers—Smithfield Foods—is owned by a Chinese parent company, and my office has had several other discussions with business development opportunities that have Chinese ownership ties. The Sioux Falls economy would strengthen via stronger cultural and business relations with key Chinese partners.

Finally, the people of China are good people. In each community, I was welcomed with warmth and gratitude from the municipal and business leaders. They are hungry for relationships, partnerships, cultural exchanges, and collaboration that could benefit both countries. It was also clear that for the Chinese, relationships come first and business comes second. Forming these friendships and partnerships with key Chinese allies is the first step toward more economic opportunities.

Throughout my week of meetings with Chinese leaders across a variety of sectors, I was again reminded that many of the problems as well as their solutions exist at the city level. I am excited to see how these new relationships will help Sioux Falls grow both culturally and economically. The world is full of opportunities for Sioux Falls, and we are capable of capitalizing on them. 


Caption: Mayor TenHaken (third from the left) meeting with senior Chinese government officials in Guangzhou, China, as part of the U.S. Heartland China Association delegation.