Baker, P.G. County Business Leaders Head to China

Barrington M. Salmon | 9/3/2014, 3 p.m.
Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker III is leading a delegation of business leaders and government officials to China ...
Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker III is heading to China on a trade mission. Political and business leaders are meeting with their Chinese counterparts and the hope is that Baker and his team garners $200 million in new investments. (Courtesy photo)

Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker III is leading a delegation of business leaders and government officials to China to strengthen trade ties and attract new investments to the county.

The 27-member delegation was scheduled to depart Sept. 3 and spend nine days in China. They were scheduled to meet with Chinese counterparts in the areas of healthcare, hospitality, real estate development, solar and alternative energy, transportation, information technology, housing development and government relations, officials said.

In an interview with the Informer in July, Gwen McCall, president and CEO of the Prince George's County Economic and Development Corp., said investments from China, as one of the top global markets in the world, would be a boon to the local economy.

"We live in a global market," McCall said. "We want to find other ways to invest in Prince George's County."

Victor Hoskins, Baker's top economic advisor, said the delegation's objectives included encouraging direct investment by Chinese backers in a range of local projects; meeting with Chinese business executives; and promoting a federal immigration program that offers American visas to foreign investors willing to bankroll U.S. businesses.

"We will be signing a memorandum of understanding with the Changping District, which is very similar to Prince George's County," said Hoskins, deputy county administrative officer for Economic Development and Infrastructure. The Changping District of Beijing is located about an hour northwest of the city of Beijing.

"We are promoting the entire county as a destination for Chinese businesses and investors. With more than $10 billion in projects in our pipeline, we believe that the county is primed for business," he said.

Hoskins said the Chinese reportedly are "very interested" in partnering on some county projects.

County officials also want to lure Chinese tourists to Prince George's to such destinations as National Harbor and its MGM Casino.

"Tourism is huge, as Chinese citizens travel a great deal. New York and the District are their top two destinations," Hoskins said. "Our blessing is being next to D.C. We're [a few] minutes away by train and have lower costs, which gives us a competitive advantage."

Hoskins said county officials believe Prince George's can "draw money" from D.C. as a tourist attraction.

He said Baker, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D) and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) joined forces to urge Air China to offer direct flights to the D.C. area. The carrier began flying into Dulles International Airport in June, according to a news release from McAuliffe's office. The flights are expected to bring in an additional 16,000 tourists and business travelers and $14 million in spending each year, the release said.

The Prince George's delegation was scheduled to make stops in Beijing and Shanghai and interact with thousands of potential foreign investors at a conference in Xiamen.

"Fifty-thousand people are [going]," Hoskins said. "Everyone will be there pitching their deals."

Hoskins said Gray and Baker are scheduled to make a presentation at the conference. Baker's scheduled to make a major announcement in Shanghai about the EB-5 program, which invites Chinese investors to contribute money to finance projects in underdeveloped communities. In return, the financiers and their immediate families can qualify for green cards and later apply for long-term residency, officials said.

In addition to seeking new investments, Gray will celebrate the 30th anniversary of D.C.'s sister-city agreement with Beijing. He'll also help open a second D.C. China Center in Beijing. There are D.C. China Center locations in the District and another location in Beijing, according to a news release. The centers serve to promote cultural exchange between the two cities.

"I'm thrilled once again to further the District's economic-development goals, as well as to promote cultural and educational exchanges by traveling to China," Gray, 71, said. "Our three-decade relationship with Beijing has flourished over the years and will only grow and deepen, thanks to the efforts we will undertake on this trip."