Chinese influence growing in local economy

china agriculture

COACHELLA, Calif. - Dozens of snapshots of local leaders and Chinese delegates tell the story of an Inland Empire community working hard to "make it happen."

"We see the traditional difficulties of new business startup," adds Riverside County Supervisor John Benoit, who represents part of the county from the Coachella Valley to Blythe.

Benoit admits a federal visa program meant to entice investors hasn't been a windfall for Chinese business here yet.  The Chinese funding for a new hotel project at Jefferson and Highway 111 in Indio has stalled.  The Chinese investor tasked with breathing life into the dormant Palm Springs Mall has not even submitted plans.

But, says Benoit, "The climate is ripe and good, and there's huge interest in the Chinese delegations.  And that's why they keep coming to Riverside County.  They know that we're doing the E-B 5 program.  They know that we're aggressively reaching out.  We're the only county that I know of that has this foreign trade office and officer."

So far the most fruitful endeavor with China has proven to be agriculture.

"We have containers arrive here from Long Beach that we load up and send back to the port," explains John Harley, sales manager of Anthony Vineyards in Coachella.  He shows off dozens of pallets of organic red, seedless grapes.

Anthony Vineyards exports between $10- $15 dollars in grapes to China each year.

"We're a large family-owned farming operation," says Harley.  "And that is a very important market for us as it moves forward."

In fact, one third of all agricultural exports in Riverside County are China-bound.  That equates to hundreds of millions of dollars, and many, many, tons of grapes, dates, and citrus.

"And we're trying to expand that market for our products.  Our products are diversifying," says Harley.

"We have a business in Blythe that's shipping between 20-50 truckloads of hay a day to China along our interstate using natural gas trucks," adds Benoit.

And according to Benoit, no one's losing an opportunity to make hay while the sun shines.

"I was on the phone today with a business newspaper in China that has two million circulation a day in China, talking about can Chinese people actually come and visit Sunnylands?" reflects Benoit.  "Can they get a tour?  Do you think more people from China will actually want to come visit the Coachella Valley as a result?  And the answer is a resounding 'yes.'"

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