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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Montana Trade Mission Returns From China

Meg O'Leary

Governor Steve Bullock’s eight day trade mission to China has concluded and participants say Montana still has a lot to learn about conducting business there.

Montana exported over $100 million worth of goods to China last year, but state officials say we can do more.

Montana Department of Commerce director Meg O'Leary says it appears there's one firm business deal involving Big Sky Resort, a couple of deals with Butte's HeadFrame Spirits and some potential sales involving United Grain Corporation.

"We have to debrief and we have the next couple of weeks where we're going to understand where exactly we can strike and put some things to bed," O'Leary says. "We also know that this is not just a one-shot deal. We can't expect to go over there and book a whole lot of business just in one try; they don't know Montana. They know Yellowstone Park, but we're a really big unknown to them and so we have a lot of work to do."

President of the Billings-based CTA Architects And Engineers, Scott Wilson, was a part of the trade mission. CTA has 14 offices in the United States and one in Canada. Wilson says the company sees potential in its offshore growth.

Wilson says he "found out it's definitely a different world over there. There's a lot of good design firms over in China; got the opportunity to meet with a few of them, but one of the things I found out is we do have some technical expertise in a couple of areas they don't have - at least the firms I met with - and they're really interested in. One of them in particular would be our refrigeration engineering design capabilities."

Wilson says he's grateful and honored to have been a part of the governor's trade mission.

"For us, I did see some tangible business opportunities. Obviously he did a great job of opening doors for us. Now the onus is on us to close the deal with some of the groups we met with. Definitely very worth the time and energy we put into it."

O'Leary says The United States' Ambassador to China - former Montana Senator Max Baucus - was not only a key part of the trade mission, but an extremely gracious host.

"He was there, first thing at the airport when we walked off the plane in Beijing," O'Leary says. "Apparently that is unprecedented. Some of the State Department people said that they have never seen an ambassador meet a delegation. Then he (also) came to several of the meetings."

A total of 17 people were a part of the trade mission. Ten of them were from the private business sector. They returned to Montana on Sunday.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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