May 26 was Mayor R.T. Rybak’s eighth day in China, where he’s been traveling to market Minneapolis as a business and leisure destination. On Memorial Day, he took some time out to call and provide an update to the Southwest Journal.
How has the trip been going?
So far, so good: “It’s been remarkably successful,” Rybak said.
The mayor flew into Beijing on May 18 with Bill Deef, vice president of global partnerships at Meet Minneapolis. Since then, he has given both a small presentation and a 30-minute speech on development in today’s economic climate at an international forum on technology enterprise development. He said attendees included three Nobel laureates, top economic development researchers and many high-ranking Chinese officials.
Afterward, Rybak and Deef traveled to Harbin, one of Minneapolis’ sister cities, where Rybak met with Harbin’s mayor and participated in a ceremony celebrating the opening of a Minneapolis wing in the Harbin International Sister Cities Museum.
Rybak said he gave the Harbin mayor a heavy pitch for Minneapolis-based architectural and construction companies, such as Mortenson Construction, to be hired for future work.
Still on tap this week: a meeting on Wednesday with a Shanghai deputy mayor whose work focuses on economic development.
Do you remain convinced marketing to China is the way to go?
Yes — and probably more so than ever.
Rybak cited this nugget of information: The middle class of urban China outnumbers the entire U.S. population, about 304 million.
“It’s a goldmine for travel and a potential goldmine for Minnesota,” he said.
Plus, he added, flying to Minneapolis, driving north and renting a lake cabin is more affordable than trying to rent a lake cabin in China itself.
Did you learn anything from other speakers at the convention?
Rybak was one of just two mayors in the world to speak at the forum; the other represented Geneva, Switzerland. Although Rybak didn’t cite anything specific that could be transferred to Minneapolis, he said he was surprised by the European approach to the current economic climate. He said that rather than calling it a world issue, the Geneva mayor said the U.S. created the problem and that only the U.S. can fix it.
Is the trip offering any other surprises?
Rybak said he has been blown away by the sheer scale of China’s booming cities. It’s something impossible to grasp unless seen up close, he said.
“They look like New York on steroids,” he said.
Even the size of Harbin, Minneapolis’ sister city, surprised him.
“It’s a midsize city,” Rybak said. “It has 9 million people.
The mayor also found himself surprised by the appearance of National Basketball Association star Yao Ming at a Delta Airlines-organized luncheon.
“I introduced myself as the mayor of Minneapolis, and he said, ‘It’s cold up there,’” Rybak said.
It was the closest thing to a negative opinion he said he’d heard on the entire trip.