New trade exec sees more than just money in China

A container ship leaves the Port of Seattle while the Bainbridge Island ferry enters. (Photo via Wikipedia)

As a former reporter for The Seattle Times and the founder of media consulting company contextChina, Kristi Heim knows a thing or two about working in fast-paced environments.

But only two months after being appointed as the executive director of Washington State China Relations Council (WSCRC), a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting stronger commercial, educational, and cultural ties between Washington state and China, Heim has begun to discover her new position may be her most challenging yet.

“I think there is no more important of a relationship than U.S. and China in terms of world peace, economic prosperity and security,” Heim said. “I hope to bring the energy and the enthusiasm I have into this 35 year-old institution to carry into the future.”

Heim eagerly revealed some of her top priorities for her time at the helm of WSCRC:

She says she wants to help WSCRC members succeed in China’s changing environment, to improve businesses’ branding and marketing efforts there, to “diversify” the WSCRC membership to better reflect local communities, and to shift the way people in Washington state think of China.

But perhaps most importantly, she wants to focus on encouraging Chinese companies to invest in Washington state. Over the next four or five years, Heim points out, Chinese overseas investment is going to be about $500 billion annually.

“I want to encourage a lot of that to come to Washington state,” Heim said. “And I think that would help our economy… I want to work with state commerce department, cities and other organizations to bring those benefits here.”

Heim said improving the branding and marketing efforts is also a top priority in her plan – many in China do not realize that major companies like Boeing, Amazon, Starbucks, Costco and Expedia are all from Seattle. She also hopes to diversify the membership by adding more bilingual programs and Chinese members.

“A lot of companies and professionals from China here who have been in this community for some years, but then they go on to create great businesses in China,” Heim said. “We want to add more of those leaders over here so they can reach back to China and build stronger bridges.”

Finding new opportunities for young professionals is important to Heim, as she said it is vital for building the organization’s future. As a former assistant director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Washington’s Jackson School of International Studies, she remembers how enthusiastic the young people she worked with were in wanting to make the world a better place.

University of Washington alumna Kristi Heim is the newly appointed executive director of Washington State China Relations Council in Seattle. (Photo courtesy of Kristi Heim)
University of Washington alumna Kristi Heim is the newly appointed executive director of Washington State China Relations Council in Seattle. (Photo courtesy of Kristi Heim)

“We have a group of people, including college students, who are among our best volunteers,” Heim said. “We would love to bring them in as members or volunteers of the council’s programs. It has gone really well for the past year so we’re just going to do more of that.”

As for changing the way Washingtonians think of China, Heim hopes we come to see China as more than just a place to make money.

“Over the last two decades, we have seen a huge economic boom,” Heim said. “This singular focus on growth at all cost is unsustainable. But we’ve seen side effects in pollution, overbuilding, economic inequality and other problems developing in China.”

With this shift in perception, Heim believe it’s time for WSCRC to think about not just economic growth but also find the desired balance between quantity and quality. She wants Washington and China working together to solve problems that are shared by both countries, like disease and climate change.

“Our organization looks to think of maintaining a long term relationship with China, thinking about working together to solve common issues,” Heim said. “It is a holistic relationship.”

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