Alabama puts spotlight on China in 2015

Updated: 2015-01-06 07:14

By PAUL WELITZKIN in New York(China Daily USA)

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Alabama puts spotlight on China in 2015

The cover photo for the invitation to an ambassador's dinner on Jan 22 from the Birmingham International Center in Alabama, showcasing China as the organization's spotlight country in 2015. Provided to China Daily

As the nation's oldest cultural education organization, the Birmingham International Center has helped the city and state of Alabama gain greater cultural understanding. This year, the center's spotlight country is China.

Founded in 1951, the Birmingham International Center (BIC) is a resource for international business education, intercultural training, heritage and arts programming. Each year, the center spotlights a country that will be showcased to Alabama schools, businesses, and communities.

"We take a three-pronged approach that involves culture, education and economic development," Iris Gross, the BIC's executive director told China Daily in an interview on Monday. "We selected China as our spotlight country because of the growing Chinese community and hundreds of Chinese students studying at Alabama colleges and universities across the state."

US Census data estimated that about 1.3% of Alabama's 4.8 million people in 2013 were of Asian descent, an increase of 70 percent from the 2000 Census. estimated that the number of people of Chinese ancestry living in Alabama in the year 2000 was 6,337, up from 3,529 in 1990.

Gross said the cultural program will present Birmingham and Alabama with a window into China's visual and performing arts. "For education, we will provide the children and teachers with an opportunity to learn about the history and culture of China," Gross said. "We reach about 25,000 children in Alabama every year."

BIC will host an ambassador's dinner on Jan 22 featuring the Chinese Ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai. The entertainment at the dinner will be by Forbidden City Chamber Orchestra and Jasmine Flower Dance Group.

"In our discussions with the Chinese ambassador to the US, he has said how impressed he has been by the level of commercial, cultural and educational collaboration in Alabama for the Spotlight on China," noted Gross.

"This is a very big event for the Chinese community in Birmingham and Alabama," said Harry He, president of the Chinese American Business Association of Birmingham. "The Chinese community is growing here."

He said one of the reasons why the Chinese community is thriving in Birmingham and Alabama is the increasing economic ties between the mainland and the state. According to the Alabama Department of Commerce, China is now Alabama's second largest export market, valued at about $2.5 billion.

Alabama, like many other Southern states, is turning to Chinese companies to bolster employment and boost investment. Last March, a manufacturing symposium in Dothan was attended by representatives of 40 communities from six states from the South — Alabama, Florida, Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina — who met with Chinese business and government leaders to discuss manufacturing expansion and job creation.

Last July, Nanjing Zijin-Lead Electronics began operating in Dothan, opening a 3D printing facility and bringing about 50 jobs to the city. Golden Dragon Precise Copper Tube Group, based in central China's Henan province, opened a manufacturing facility in Wilcox County last year.

After the ambassador's dinner, a business roundtable will be held Jan 23.

"We want to present an opportunity for businesses from China and Alabama to get together," said Gross. "We will focus on five main areas – agriculture, automobiles, aviation, energy and investments."

"In addition to the business ties, we are also getting more students from China that study at the state's colleges and universities," said He.

Chinese students can be found at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Alabama A&M University in Huntsville has a partnership with Nanjing Forestry University in China.