Gage County and China may not have an obvious connection, but one local businessman is working to change that.
Hardy Shao has been president of Worldlawn Power Equipment since the Chinese company acquired the Encore lawn-maintenance business in Beatrice last year.
After more than a year of mower production, Shao wanted to highlight what Nebraska and Beatrice can do for Chinese businesses.
He worked with Nebraska Gov. Dave Heinemann and Wang Wei Yao, CEO of Jiangsu World Group -- Worldlawn’s parent company -- to brainstorm ways to get word to China about Nebraska’s potential.
The result of the conversations was a group from JiangSu Broadcasting Corporation, which broadcasts to the JiangSu province area of China, traveling to Beatrice and filming a near hour-long documentary that will be broadcast nationally in China, as well as other parts of the world.
“When we decided to invest in Beatrice, a lot of noise was made (in China),” Shao said. “They know there is some trade friction between China and the U.S., but the example here doesn’t show that. There’s no friction here at all. The state of Nebraska is really unique, so I want the people on the other side to know that you shouldn’t believe some propaganda. It’s a different situation here.”
The three-person broadcasting team spent two days filming the Worldlawn factory, as well as interviewing Heineman for the nearly hour-long documentary.
Heineman said showcasing that Nebraska can have an impact on the global economy will likely play a pivotal role in shaping the state’s future manufacturing and agricultural outlook.
“The Chinese in particular want to invest in Nebraska, and what we are observing is that over the last three years exports to China have gone up 30 percent,” Heineman said. “(China) is a large country with potential. What happens when a Chinese company has invested in Beatrice is a great example where it’s a two-way street. It helps World Lawn grow in Beatrice, which means more jobs for people in Beatrice.”
The little details
In addition to manufacturing practices, the film crew set to capture acute details of American customs in general.
A co-worker bringing in cookies for someone’s birthday may not be a big deal to domestic workers, but it’s exactly the type of tradition the crew wants to take back to China.
“One of the wonderful employees brought cookies one day, so they really videoed that detail showing that people here are very nice, sincere and take care of each other,” Shao explained. “They are really interested in those types of details. They want to know about the culture here.”
Worldlawn currently employs around 30 people and has added assembly jobs since beginning operations.
JiangSu World Group purchased the business -- formerly Encore Manufacturing -- in March 2011. At the time of purchase, Encore employed two full-time workers and five part-time employees with no manufacturing taking place.
One point Shao wants to convey to his China counterparts about the business is the support government in Nebraska provides to businesses, which he said is not always the case overseas.
He said from Heineman to mayor Dennis Schuster, local government has provided the necessary support for the company to find success in southeast Nebraska.
“I’m working between two cultures,” Shao said. “I want them to see that I have been taken care of by the local government and I live in a very nice community here. I have been telling them that the state of Nebraska really takes care of the enterprises.
“From the other side, they see it’s good here because the government takes care of its companies, so they would be interested in developing more here. There are less concerns.”
What Nebraska can offer
Catherine Lang, director of Economic Development and Commissioner of Labor for the state of Nebraska, said tax incentives, low energy costs and a central location are a few of the factors that make Nebraska a contender for international jobs.
“Our interest here is the continued ability to get Nebraska as a state in front of potential business enterprises that wish to invest in the United States,” Lang said. “If they are considering entering the U.S. market, the idea is that we are partnering on this video with Worldlawn, who has had a successful operation in Nebraska. They feel it has been successful, and it’s great to have them saying that. That will resonate back with their country that Nebraska is a good place to think about.”
By providing continued support and encouragement to foreign enterprises, Heinemann said the state will hopefully see more businesses migrate to the Midwest.
“There are a number of things we’re working on when dealing with foreign countries in the Asian part of the world,” Heineman said. “They expect key government leaders to help establish relationships and government can be the one to open the doors. “International efforts are very important for a state like ours. With a diversity of opportunities from agriculture to business in Southeast Nebraska, you would have the opportunity to export ag products as well as the opportunity that World Lawn presents to the Beatrice community. We need to understand that relationship needs to be mutually beneficial to both Nebraska and China.”
Having a mutually-beneficial relationship such as Heineman described is what Shao hopes to emphasize to the Chinese people through the video, and anticipates more Foreign industries will follow suit and consider Nebraska -- an unknown area to most in China -- for future business endeavors.
“Not many people in China know the state of Nebraska,” Shao said with a laugh. “They know about New York and California, but not much about Nebraska. Now through this, more and more people will know about Nebraska. Some people say with two different cultures there may be friction, but I don’t feel that way. The most important thing is to communicate, to explain.”