By Alexander Alusheff from Lansing State Journal
LANSING – The Capital Region International Airport is attempting to secure a direct passenger flight to Xiamen, China, a coastal city along the Taiwan Strait with a population of nearly 2 million. The weekly charter flight would not only help the airport but stimulate business ties between Michigan and China, said Chris Holman, chair of the Capital Region Airport Authority.
“We want China to have access to the Midwest, and Lansing is the most logical place to do that,” Holman said. “We’re selling Lansing as a destination because what they know is New York, Chicago, Los Angeles.”
At the same time, 49,000 people traveled one-way from Michigan to Beijing and Shanghai, China, said Nicole Noll-Williams, director of marketing and passenger development at the Lansing airport.
“With a market like China, we need to draw from the entire state,” Noll-Williams said. “If there’s a customer base to support it, we will support it.”
In Lansing, that customer base is centered around Michigan State University, which enrolled more than 5,000 students from China last fall. MSU's 7,643 international students contributed an estimated $273 million to the greater Lansing economy last year, according to MSU’s Office for International Students and Scholars.
“We get Chinese students to tap into the Lansing market despite not being a major U.S. city,” said Jack Schripsema, president of the Great Lansing Convention & Visitors Bureau, adding that those students’ families could come visit them via the direct flight, bringing more money into the local economy. “It’s fresh dollars coming into the community.”
For years, increasing Chinese tourism in Michigan has been a goal for Gov. Rick Snyder, who’s led trade missions to the country since 2011 and for good reason.
China is Michigan’s third largest export market behind Canada and Mexico. Last year, Michigan exported $3.4 billion in goods to China. Snyder has said Michigan has received more than $1 billion in new business investment from China, Japan and Korea since 2011.
As Michigan's focus on increasing Chinese tourism is relatively new, data has not yet been compiled solely on China's impact on the state's economy, said Michelle Grinnell, public relations manager for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.
Talks between Lansing and Xiamen have already begun. In September, representatives from Xiamen came to Lansing and signed memos of understanding with city and state officials, which Holman said is a good step toward signing official agreements.
“China is all about relationship building,” said Holman, who has imported and exported goods to the country for the past 23 years. “The trip by Xiamen was an important step.”
Holman made a trip to Xiamen in October with some members of the Greater Lansing Convention & Visitors Bureau. However, it will take a few meetings between the two cities’ mayors before a concrete deal can be made, Holman said. The next meeting is scheduled in Lansing in June.
Part of the deal-in-progress includes building a cultural trade and educational exchange building in both cities. Holman said the multimillion dollar investment could be paid for by Chinese investors.
“If we can get a connection, Lansing would be a gateway,” Schripsema said. “It would be huge for the economic impact of the region. The Chinese students (at Michigan State University) have a tremendous impact on our economy by just being here.”