Minnesotans have a stake in China's growing middle-class market

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  • August 7, 2013 - 5:50 AM
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Communiqué No. 10 of 10: What’s good for General Motors is indeed good for China. And perhaps Minnesota as well.
That’s the inescapable impression, at least, watching newly-minted Buicks, Chevrolets and Cadillacs rolling off the assembly line at the Shanghai GM Jinqiao plant on the outskirts of the city.
The sprawling plant employees 4,000 people. They spit out 280,000 cars last year.
Like Bruce Springsteen sings, “The foreman says these jobs are going, boys, and they ain’t comin’ back.”
But there’s more to the story.
Most of this production is being sold in China, where GM has 11 joint ventures and two wholly owned enterprises, according to the China-U.S. Exchange Foundation, which hosted our 10-day tour of the world’s most populous nation.
In 2003, China became the second largest single market for GM, so it’s not just a source of cheap labor.
They’ve received help along the way from Brad Pitt, whose image can be seen on billboards for Cadillac in downtown Shanghai. The Chinese buy a lot of automobiles, even though the license plates cost as much as the cars, a government measure to make money and reduce epic traffic congestion.
That's one reason a lot of Chinese still ride bicycles. But the nation is fast becoming one of the largest global markets for luxury brands as well, according to Ning Shao of the Minnesota Trade Office in Shanghai, which opened last year when Gov. Mark Dayton led a trade mission to China. "The China market is becoming all sectors," he said, "including consumer products."

GM plant officials declined to tell us how much these workers make. But the Chinese don’t seem to be complaining. College grads make up the majority of the plant, their average age is about 26, and turnover is low.

Say hello to China’s rising middle-class. Somewhere, for some company in Minnesota, there might be a happy ending to this story.

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