There may be a trade dispute with China at the federal level in the United States, but for Arkansas, business with China goes on as usual, as indicated by a recent trip to the country by state officials and the progress of ongoing projects.
Since taking office in 2015, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has visited China every year to nurture the relationship and entice investors.
The efforts have paid off: In recent years, Arkansas has landed five investment projects from China, totaling more than $2 billion with the potential for 1,600 jobs.
Mike Preston, executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, accompanied the governor on each of his three trips.
This year, Preston led a small team without the governor in early May to continue the tradition of an annual visit to China.
"This is the fourth trip for me in the last three years and the first time that Governor Hutchinson could not go because he is in the middle of a re-election campaign," Preston said in Little Rock.
"He wanted me to go to make sure we continue to build our relationship with China based on our past success of recruiting companies from China to Arkansas."
Visit to China
The delegation visited Shandong's Sun Paper, which announced last year the largest Chinese project in Arkansas - a $1.8 billion plant producing linerboard for paper boxes utilizing the state's substantial timber resources.
They visited Hefei Risever Machinery in Hefei, East China's Anhui province, which is investing $20 million in Jonesboro, AR, to set up North American plants.
"(Risever) makes counterweights for large production equipment and supplies Caterpillar and other large industrial manufacturers. It's a family-run business and the two sons have begun taking over in recent years. One son already bought a home in Jonesboro," Preston said.
Risever is expected to break ground in late June. Once completed, the company will bring 160 jobs to Jonesboro.
In Suzhou, East China's Jiangsu province, Preston and his team toured Tianyuan Garments, whose Arkansas plant is expected to go into production this year. Tianyuan is developing a fully automated clothing production line in Little Rock.
"China is a big country. It takes a while to get around. Going to Tianyuan (from Shanghai) took two hours by train, a two-hour car ride, a three-hour tour, then another four hours back. It made for a long day, but it was a productive trip," Preston said.
"We followed up with those companies and saw how the progress was coming along, and offered what we could do to assist."
In Shanghai, Preston made a stop at the US Consulate as Arkansas wants to make sure that visas will be issued so the Chinese companies can send staff members to train US employees.
Besides assisting in visa issues in China, Preston said that ACED also helps to make sure Chinese companies get the required permits and engineering work done in Arkansas.
"We want to make sure the companies are taken care of," he said.
Arkansas' diligence has attracted more attention from China. Preston said that quite a few Chinese companies are interested in taking advantage of what the state has to offer.
"We've got a lot of other companies interested in us. They want to come to know about Arkansas," he said.