Louisiana parish strengthens economic ties with sister city

Updated: 2013-08-19 10:47

By Yu Wei in San Francisco (China Daily)

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 Louisiana parish strengthens economic ties with sister city

Members of Louisiana's Terrebonne Parish Economic Development Authority on a week-long trip to Weihai in July. Provided to China Daily

The head of an economic-development authority in Louisiana says it's "on the verge" of announcing projects with its sister city of Weihai after a recent trip to the port city on the coast of the East China Sea.

Steve Vassallo, CEO of the Terrebonne Parish Economic Development Authority (TEDA), said Terrebonne and Weihai have been working on several major projects, including education exchanges and in the ship building and construction industries.

"We are looking a lot of different things right now," he said. "We haven't had a big announcement yet, but we feel we are on the verge of that."

Terrebonne and Weihai have "a lot of common interests relating to ship building and repair, gas, tourism and seafood", Vassallo said. "We signed a five-year agreement with Weihai to explore trade and investment opportunities that is going both directions."

The week-long trip to Weihai in July was the economic development group's second to the city in Shandong province since June 2012 when the economic-development alliance was signed. On this trip, the Terrebonne delegation also visited the US embassy in Beijing.

TEDA is the only economic-development authority in Louisiana to have established an accord with China. Terrebonne in southern Louisiana is one of 64 parishes in the state; a parish corresponds to counties in other US states.

The seafood industry plays a major role in Louisiana's economy. According to Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, one of every 70 jobs in Louisiana is seafood related, with a total economic impact of more than $2.4 billion. Nearly one-third of the seafood consumed in the contiguous US comes from Louisiana and it is the No 1 source of shrimp, oysters, crab and crawfish.

Given seafood's economic impact on the state, Vassallo said he does not want to miss any opportunities in that field.

"Seafood is one of our common industries of Louisiana and Weihai," he said. "We had several meetings with Weihai seafood companies and there is a growing demand throughout China for the niche seafood products that are coming out of the Gulf Mexico."

That demand is especially strong in high-end Chinese hotels, restaurants and grocery stores, Vassallo said, adding that a major shrimp processor in Louisiana is discussing a possible joint venture with Weihai seafood companies.

The US Commerce Department last week ruled that China and four other countries - Ecuador, India, Malaysia and Vietnam - improperly subsidized shrimp that were exported to the US. If a second government body, the US International Trade Commission, decides next month that the subsidies have harmed the American industry, the US would impose duties on as much as $1.7 billion a year in shrimp imports from the five countries.

"It could possibly affect our seafood cooperation with Weihai, " Vassallo said. "But I think the growing demand in China is going to overcome anything the regulations do. We are not discouraged."

Vassallo believes there is a market in the US for Chinese sea cucumbers because many American are now so health conscious. "I would love to see it produced in Louisiana in a mass scale because nothing really would compete against this product," he said.

With $1.9 billion in exports, China was Louisiana's sixth-biggest export market in 2012, according to the latest US-China Business Council report.

"We see nothing but green lights and blue skies that are going even to increase more," Vassallo said.

During its visit, the delegation also coordinated the working relationship between Kristen Legendre, who is director of business development for TEDA, and the foreign affairs office of Weihai, which will serve as her host during her 90-day business development mission. Earlier this year, Terrebonne Parish was host to the foreign affairs office's deputy director, who visited the state to explore business opportunities for Weihai.

"My main duty here is to establish relationships with business interests in the area in order to strengthen the five-year economic alliance we signed with Weihai," Legendre said. "During my short time in Weihai, I have explored several investment opportunities from Weihai businesses."

Legendre said Terrebonne Parish and Weihai can benefit from each other because the two have several industrial similarities that provide opportunities for both parties.

As the first Louisiana citizen assigned to China exclusively for economic development, Legendre said the opportunity she has been given is important.

"Not only for myself, but also for Terrebonne Parish and the state of Louisiana." she said. "I hope that my work here will help not only TEDA to succeed at its goal in becoming a leader in economic development statewide and nationally, but also to reinforce US-China relations."


(China Daily USA 08/19/2013 page2)