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Sunday, 28 April 2013 22:00

Q&A: Lt. Gov. Brian Calley

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Lt. Gov. Brian Calley Lt. Gov. Brian Calley COURTESY PHOTO

A recent trade mission led by Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley is just the beginning of forging stronger economic ties between West Michigan and the Netherlands.

Attracting new investments to the state, further opening exports to the Netherlands from Michigan, and fostering ventures between West Michigan and Dutch companies were the primary goals of trade mission. Agriculture, manufacturing and managing water resources are among the areas where West Michigan and the Netherlands can do more business, Calley said.  

As this trip wrapped up, Calley spoke with MiBiz about the trade mission and the historic ties between the Netherlands and West Michigan.

What were you hoping to accomplish with the visit?

The Dutch have been active investors as of late, and it’s something we want to cultivate more of, especially based on our long-term political and cultural ties and particularly what West Michigan has with the Netherlands. And we’re also looking for opportunities to expand our export opportunities and make the type of connections to get us more access to markets. This is a strategically important place because of its geography. While the Netherlands may only have 17 million or 18 million people, its ports can reach as high as 200 to 300 million people in Europe. For those reasons, these ties make a lot of sense.

What have you been able to establish during the visit?

This is mainly to start a discussion and to start forming the relationships that are necessary to improve our investment outlook and strategic alliance across the public and private sectors. It’s very much a relationship-building mission that we’ll look to follow up on and build in the future.

There are great legacy connections between West Michigan and the Netherlands. Why are these kinds of trips necessary?

The longer-term cultural ties that we have, they do not automatically turn into business or job opportunities. That takes another step. It takes some effort. While we do export a fair amount — it’s a top 20 export market for us — we can always do more, and starting with places where we have some ties and some relationships, it’s like low-hanging fruit. It’s reaching out and making alliances in places where we don’t have to break through cultural barriers and start from scratch. There are already strong ties.

It almost sounds like a global version of economic gardening.

It really is. The world has shrunk and we believe that we’re strategically positioned in a lot of ways to benefit from globalization. In the past, people in Michigan have tended to look at it like we were victims of globalization, and we want to turn that on its head. We have all kinds of ways that we can compete.

What’s the biggest upside toward building this relationship further and what are the biggest opportunities?

Automotive and manufacturing is definitely a strong area, and agriculture is an area that we both share. They are a top exporter in the world in agriculture, second only to the United States, and there’s a lot of opportunity to benefit from cross trade and in that area as well.

And, of course, the water technology is another rich area we have to just learn from and benefit the climate in Michigan for investment. Food processing, for example, uses a tremendous amount of water and we want to be able to use water resources, but do so in a way that is responsible and protects the resource that we all know is unique in the world.

Where do you see Michigan looking next in the world for stronger ties?

There will be continued efforts in China going forward, and … we will be going to Israel. That’s another place where we have strong, long-term cultural ties that, I think, will present plenty of opportunities. Our biggest trading relationship is with the Canadians, and that’s one that’s on the upswing still. When we get this new bridge (in Detroit) built, that’s going to give us that much more opportunity to expand it.

In the next few years, what do you hope to tell us about what came from this trade mission?

The main things are for the export activity to and through the Netherlands to increase and for there to be additional direct investment in Michigan by Dutch firms who today employ about 5,000 people in Michigan. I would love to see that number grow.

What do you have to do now to build on the connections made during the trip to take them further and make them sustainable?

We brought a lot of companies along with us that had different agendas and meetings spread across the whole country. Our job is really to facilitate. So as companies in Michigan look to form these relationships with Dutch companies, either partnering on the ground in Michigan or selling Michigan products there, our job is to solve problems or remove obstacles that get in the way of that happening.

Interview conducted and condensed by Mark Sanchez.

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