July 22, 2014 at 1:00 am

Gov. Snyder, ex-Treasury chief urge closer ties between Michigan, China

Gov. Rick Snyder, left, and former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr. participate in a panel discussion hosted by the Detroit Economic Club. (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)

Gov. Rick Snyder and former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr. teamed up Monday to emphasize why Michigan should continue to forge closer economic ties to China, in a panel discussion hosted by the Detroit Economic Club.

China is one of the United States’ biggest trading partners, but both men emphasized that its economy will soon change from one of cheap labor, exports and government investment to one where a growing middle-class shifts to a consumption economy, leaving China with money to invest overseas. Snyder has made direct foreign investment in Michigan one of his priorities for building the state economy.

“Globalization is only going to continue,” Snyder said. “Historically, China was an exporter but they’re looking at consumption now.”

Calling China a potential “consumption engine,” Paulson noted, “We’re going to want some of our dollars to come back and be invested here.”

Snyder is heading back to China in the fall for another trade mission. He has made a trip there every year since elected.

Besides Michigan’s obvious strength in manufacturing, Paulson and Snyder said other industries of interest to the Chinese include research and development and agriculture. Previous efforts to interest Chinese investors led to the purchase of Enstrom Helicopter Corp. in Menominee, Snyder said, which has seen a boom in business as it builds helicopters for use in China.

Another avenue would be value-added processing to agricultural products, which would help the country address its concerns over food safety issues, such as melamine-laced dried milk.

For the most part, Michigan just needs to continue making the state attractive to business and investors, while forging closer ties with China, both men said.