Sunday, June 29, 2008

Does the Yi trade doom Milwaukee?

The Yi Jianlian experiment is over in Milwaukee, just one year in the making.

The seven footer from China, the cornerstone of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce's (MMAC) "China policy," has been traded to the New Jersey Nets!

It was only a year ago that MMAC's China Business Council Co-chair, Bob Craft, CEO of a Milwaukee based private equity firm offering residency rights for dollars, said: This is a massive opportunity – people have no clue what will hit us. There is so much work for anyone in this community that has an interest in China. They’re already (Wisconsin’s) third-largest business partner. I don’t know what path it will take, but it will be big.”

John Schmidt, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's economics writer was equally effusive:"To a handful of Milwaukee entrepreneurs, Yi's rock-star status back home amounts to a potential gold mine...

Yi's arrival provides a fresh opportunity to make Milwaukee a more globalized city, one that draws international residents, investment and culture. In May, the Department of Homeland Security approved southeastern Wisconsin as a special economic zone that offers coveted U.S. residency rights to qualified foreign investors." I'm going to package the opportunity," said Bob Kraft...."

Amid all of the cheerleading, and growth of business with China, neither the MMAC nor Schmidt ever mentioned that China's sales to the state (imports) were growing much faster than our exports.. The result of this trade imbalance - Wisconsin lost 39,668 jobs, 1.43% of total employment, between 1989 and 2003.

Now that the Bucks have shipped Yi out of town in much the same way that Milwaukee's corporate leaders have shipped thousands of manufacturing jobs to China and other low-wage havens, what will become of the MMAC's China-based development policy?

Are the city's hopes for investment, increased international residents and culture over?

Or was the euphoria over Yi's signing just another example of corporate Milwaukee's promotion of hype over real economic development strategy?

Fear not. The Bucks second round draft choice is the 6-foot-8 forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute from Yaounde, Cameroon. The 21-year-old Mbah a Moute is a prince. His father is a king! Talk about prestigious international residents!

Maybe Kraft will offer residency to Cameroonian monarchs if they cough up $500,000?

Milwaukee's corporate titans may find the Cameroon an attractive place to invest. Average wages are 45 cents a day, even less than China's. At those wages, Harley won't sell many motorcycles. But then, that's not really what the global labor arbitrage is about.

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Nice job! The folly of overstating the importance of professional sports, much less the presence of one player, to the overall wellbeing of a community comes through loud and clear.
Chuck

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