China eyes North Louisiana for million dollar investments

Dec 04, 2013

The Chinese have been interested in Louisiana for years. In fact, it was the state's top foreign trade partner in 2012. Nearly $2 billion were spent during the first quarter, according to the World Trade Center: New Orleans. So far, Chinese investment has been focused on the southern portion of the state, but North Louisiana is now in their sights.

China's political system is communist based, but a more capitalist economic system has been embraced. The country, which is called the world's factory, has one of fastest growing economies on the planet, even though it has slowed in recent times.

"It's growing, and it's been growing in leaps and bounds, much higher than any other economy in the world," Elizabeth Rankin said. She's a professor of economics at Centenary College. "Double digit growth rates are unheard of in most other places."

China's people are culturally good savers, and the number of rich and middle-class is increasing. Rankin says their government has warmed up to capitalism even more. They're relaxing their hold on the booming economy.

"They have greatly opened up their economy from where it was 20 years ago," Rankin said.

This may just be a move to keep the economy healthy but has allowed China's wealthy investors to easily invest their money overseas. North Louisiana has caught their eyes.

"They are purely private investors," Eugene Ji, a Baton Rouge businessman, said. "They're looking for a market where they can make more profit for return."

Ji is a native of China and heads the Louisiana G-2 Club, which helps attract nearly all of state's Chinese interests. He worked with Representative Patrick Williams to bring a group of investors with the Private Investment Association of China to Shreveport

"That organization is mostly privately owned," Ji said. "Those investors, some of them are worth $1 billion. Some of them are worth $10 billion."

Ji says they've made investments in local golf courses as a possible way to make the area more appealing to other investors. He says they also invested in a local natural gas company. It's that natural resource, as well as agricultural potential, that makes North Louisiana so attractive to them.

"They need food. They need rice. They need milk," Rep. Williams said. "We have a surplus of that. It's all about supply and demand."

Williams says the Chinese investors will not only supplement existing businesses but help create and grow new industries in the state.

"They want to create energy distribution," Williams said. "They want to create agriculture exchange, food preparation and food products. They want to create companies that will highlight the industrial use of natural gas, fertilizer antifreeze, plastics, pharmaceuticals, fabrics...."

For example the state's dairy production, which is basically nonexistent. Ji says there's interest to grow it in order to attract a processing plant.

"They will be interested in investing in a milk powder plant, which can by all the fresh milk we can supply," Ji said. "Ninety-nine percent of that will be exported."

It seems Chinese investors want to get involved in many areas of Louisiana's economy. There is concern their government, which still has an influence on its own economy, would then have an influence on ours. . Rankin says you shouldn't worry about their investors.

"I don't see it as a problem because I don't see it as government influence here in the United States," Rankin said. "There may be government influence on what they do with their profits, but how they operate here is under our government's influence much more so than their own government's influence. I don't think that its a problem in terms of political play."

Ji says more Chinese investors could visit later this summer. He says Louisiana's potential, natural resources and location on the Gulf of Mexico make it standout amongst states competing for Chinese investors.