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On to Shanghai
By Michael Khoo
Minnesota Public Radio
June 11, 2002


Gov. Jesse Ventura is once again on the move. He's heading from Beijing, China, to Shanghai for the next leg of his week-long Chinese trade mission. Earlier, Ventura sat down with top-level Chinese government officials to lay out a road map for further economic cooperation between Minnesota and China.

Gov. Ventura says he's impressed by what he saw at the Beijing Hormel Foods plant; he offered it as an example to other businesses hoping to gain a foothold in China.
(MPR Photo/Michael Khoo)

Ventura met privately with Chinese Vice Premier Li Lanqinq for just under an hour. Li is the highest-level official Ventura's had access to so far. Ventura and his staff say Li and other Chinese officials showed a keen interest in developing stronger ties with Minnesota. Ventura says after going down a list of what each needs and what each can offer, they agreed that Minnesota and China fit "like a glove."

"They're very interested in any help that we can give them because they're aware that we're the land of 10,000 lakes. They're aware that water is so predominant in Minnesota and that they're looking and seeking to get our help in environmental concerns that they have here, which I think is terrific," Ventura said.

The meeting was held in the walled compound of Zhongnanhai, where China's highest officials live and conduct their business. It's the same spot that Chairman Mao Tse Tung used during his long rule.

But Ventura also had a chance to escape the crowded streets of Beijing and head to a meat processing plant owned by Austin-based Hormel on the city's outskirts.

Ventura says he's impressed by what he saw at the Beijing Hormel Foods plant; he offered it as an example to other businesses hoping to gain a foothold in China.

The facility employs roughly 320 workers and can process up to 250 hogs per day, turning out a dizzying array of products geared towards Asian consumers. Rick Rogers, the plant's general manager, says part of Hormel's success lies in understanding the differences between American and Chinese appetites.

"We learn very quickly that we have to adapt our processes, our products, our flavors, our formulas to the local Chinese tastes. And I think whatever business enterprise you look at, it's paramount that you keep that in mind. You have to adapt to the local needs," according to Rogers.

To make his case, Rogers allowed Ventura and his entourage to sample turkey drumsticks seasoned with Chinese green tea. He says that product has now become the plant's second best seller. Ventura, between bites, gave his approval.

"It's not a powerful seasoning at all; it's very mild," he said.

Later in the evening, Ventura hosted the trip's first so-called "Minnesota Night," which brought the entire delegation together for a reception with their Chinese counterparts.

Bob Mortenson of Chanhassen, who represents the agricultural cooperative FDGI, says he was inspired to make the China trip after testing the waters in Latin America.

"We've had some good degree of success penetrating that market and finding homes for the goods and services of the agricultural community in Minnesota. And based on that success, we have undertaken to come to China to develop more leads," Mortenson said.

Mortenson complimented the governor and his staff for arranging the trade mission. He says without the governor's visibility, it's unlikely an event like Minnesota Night would have attracted as much attention.

Wu Pei Lun agrees. Wu is a vice general manager of the software consultant Fourth Shift's Asian operations. Wu says he attended the reception after hearing about it from the Fourth Shift headquarters in Minneapolis.

"I think it's good for the governor to come because that gives the Chinese people the impression that American people really want to do business here, they really want to spend energy to come see how China is. And I think the people will have some confidence to do some business with American companies," he said.

Wu says China's recent entry into the World Trade Organization will only increase the pressure to break into the Chinese market - and for Chinese businesspeople to respond in kind.