WTC-St. Louis agreement eyes Chinese trade growth

5-31-13 St. Louis Business Journal
by Daniel Bauman 

In 2005, St. Louis-based fixture maker idX Corp. established a presence in China as demand grew from retailers. Four years later, the company opened its first wholly-owned plant in Wujiang City, China. Its fixtures are fully or partially manufactured in China and shipped worldwide to be installed and assembled for its retail clients, according to Lin Courtois, idX’s senior director of marketing.

Whereas “green” fixtures were an important component of revenue for idX several years ago, more recent international expansion by the company’s clients has driven sales for the fixture manufacturer, Courtois said. In 2012, idX’s revenue was estimated to be at $275 million. According to Courtois, business in China for idX has been steady. She said the company recently worked with a major coffee brand there as it sought to open new retail stores in China.

In December, Clayton-based World Trade Center St. Louis (WTC) signed an agreement in Nanjing, China with the China Council for Promotion of International Trade to foster trade, investment and personal relationships between the two cities. While the project is still in the early stages, Tim Nowak, executive director of WTC, said companies that are already doing business in China, such as idX, stand to gain from the Nanjing-St. Louis agreement.

Nowak said the agreement would be used to schedule and host Chinese business delegations when they visit St. Louis. He said these delegates would be introduced to St. Louis business leaders and pitched the benefits of trading and investing with the region. Nanjing’s leaders agreed to extend the same courtesy to St. Louis delegates when they visit Nanjing.

“I think that St. Louis, through the Hub Initiative, through many other initiatives, has made a concerted effort to further those relationships both with Nanjing and other markets in China. I don’t think it is by accident that we are seeing that growth,” Nowak said.

Formed in 2009, the Midwest-China Hub Commission was created to develop cargo service routes to China and other international markets from Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.

Legislation with incentives to support the China Hub Initiative stymied in the Missouri Legislature in October 2011. Shortly afterwards, China Cargo Airlines began to cancel flights to Lambert. In December 2012, representatives from The Midwest China Hub Commission and the American Society of Transportation and Logistics reaffirmed their commitment to the initiative.

Christie Peterson, director of international development at Creve Coeur-based Kent Precision Foods Group (KPFG), said the company began to assess what steps it would need to take to export to China in April. Since then, the company, which blends and packages dry mix food products, has given two presentations to interested parties. Precision employs 250 people, 35 of which are in St. Louis, and owns two production facilities in Chicago and Iowa. Peterson said the company, which did not disclose revenue, has 30 export customers around the world, making up five percent of KPFG’s revenue.

Peterson said the WTC has helped KPFG export to China. Specifically, Peterson said the WTC has advised KPFG on the details of trade paperwork. Peterson also said KPFG would take part in a three-month export training program this summer, called MO STEP=UP, offered by the WTC and several other state and national organizations.

The nation of 1.3 billion people will need to support a robust economy and a growing population of affluent Chinese consumers, Nowak previously told the Business Journal. Data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) backs up his prediction. The IMF projects China’s GDP will increase by 8 percent in 2013 and 8.2 percent in 2014.

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