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Chicago preps for Chinese president's visit

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Chinese president arrives at O'Hare Thursday for his first visit to Chicago and his only stop outside of Washington, D.C.

For years, there has been a lot of talk about the trade deficit with china and concerns about losing manufacturing jobs overseas. Those are part of the discussions in Washington, but here in Chicago the focus will be on ways the Chinese-U.S. relationship is already paying dividends.

In the 1920's Sidney Shure started a one-man company selling radio parts in Chicago. Today the company that bares his name is still privately held but does business around the world, selling microphones and other audio equipment.

"It is remarkable how fast China has risen in the last five years," said Al Hershner, vice president of Shure.

To take advantage of the explosive growth in China, created by its 1.3 billion residents, Shure opened a factory outside of Shanghai six years ago. Company executives say they weren't shipping jobs to China, they were growing the business. And that growth enabled manufacturing to continue at a plant in Wheeling and research and development jobs to be added at Shure's headquarters in Niles.

"We saw it as additive. We see it as an opportunity not to relocate or transition jobs as it is to enable business growth there and enable some of what we do here," said Hershner.

At Automated Industrial Machinery in northwest suburban Addison, owner Constantine Grapsas says Chicago's reputation as a China-friendly city has already opened doors for him.

"The better relationship we have with the China market, the more sales we're going to do here," said Grapsas.

China's investments in Chicago can almost be seen in the city's skyline. On Wednesday, the Chinese government announced Boeing would get an airplane order worth $19 billion.

The Langham Hotel planned for the IBM building, made possible by $150 million from a Hong Kong investment firm.

And in the Chicago Public Schools, Chinese President Hu will see for himself Thursday the nation's largest Mandarin language program being taught at Walter Payton Prep.

"I also thought by learning the language, I could learn more about the culture. It's just fascinating to me," said student Diana Rodriguez.

China Inc author Ted Fishman says Chicago symbolizes how China wants to be "perceived."

"Go to Washington, take your lumps. Come to Chicago, be treated like a hero," said Fishman.

President Hu's visit won't be without protest. Human rights group are planning demonstrations outside the Palmer House where Mayor Daley will host a welcome dinner Thursday night.

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