A successful international investment has opened up new possibilities for business recruitment.

In 2011, Morton was selected as the U.S. headquarters of Yinlun Machinery, a large manufacturer of heat exchange units based in Tiantai, China. The company purchased a 50,000-square-foot building in our village—its first facility based outside of China—for the assembly and distribution of its products in North America. That decision propelled our economic development efforts into a whole new international realm that has been challenging, exciting and at times, controversial.

Opportunity Arises
Until Yinlun came knocking, we hadn’t discussed international business recruitment as a core part of our economic development strategy. Limited staff time and expertise, restricted budgets, and cultural and language barriers are just a few of the challenges that face anyone engaged in overseas recruitment, and in a small community, these challenges are even more significant. But when we were presented with an opportunity to land the U.S. headquarters of a large, growing manufacturer with direct ties to Caterpillar and the automotive industry, we knew we needed to step up our game.

In preparation for Yinlun’s first official visit to Morton, we studied Chinese culture and learned Mandarin words of welcome. We practiced holding our business cards with two hands and presenting them with a bow. Special gifts were selected to share with our visitors, and a local caterer made a variety of foods we thought they would enjoy. This preparation paid off, and along with some help from an excellent consultant and real estate broker, Morton beat out Indiana for Yinlun’s investment.

The Journey Begins
This foray into the Chinese business culture kicked off a journey that has been incredibly rewarding for our community. Shortly after Yinlun’s location announcement, Morton’s then-mayor, Norm Durflinger, began talking about sister city opportunities with Tiantai. Later that year, an excursion to China with Illinois Governor Pat Quinn culminated in Mayor Durflinger signing an official sister city agreement, the kickoff to relationships beyond our friends at Yinlun.

Kim Uhlig, our business development director, worked tirelessly to create a network of experts in addressing the unique needs of international clients. Terms like VISA, EB5 and Foreign Trade Zone became a part of our regular office vocabulary. State Representative Keith Sommer, Congressman Aaron Schock and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity helped us navigate through various state and federal rules and regulations as our clients tried to understand a business development and taxing structure so different from their own.

Once Yinlun settled in, we began planning a delegate trip to visit our new sister city. A group of 34 attended our first 10-day trip, which included sightseeing in Beijing and Shanghai, along with a tour of Yinlun’s Tiantai headquarters and a dinner that was every bit as elegant as the most opulent state dinner. Several subsequent trips have yielded a new sister school relationship between Tiantai High School and Illinois Central College and two additional foreign-based company locations in Morton: Baolai and Puritech. A trip this past year included a day in Vevey, Switzerland, visiting the headquarters of Nestle, the parent company of our own Libby’s Pumpkin.

A Response to Critics
But international development has not come without challenges or controversy; not everyone in Morton was sold on welcoming international investment. Concerns about economic and social policies in China were expressed in local letters to the editor, in opposition to foreign business development efforts. Our response to the critics was shared with Peoria Journal Star writer Steve Stein:

With the highest economic growth in the world, China not only has become the “world factory,” which opens a wide range of opportunities for imported products, its rapid growth demands products, services and investment from all around the world to maintain its pace of expansion. Doing business in China represents a great opportunity for companies, whether for import, export or investment. Sister city relationships open doors to establishing meaningful and lasting global friendships, partnerships, and connections. People-to-people relationships not only enhance our lives, but represent our best hope for peace and prosperity in the future. Sister city programs raise awareness of global issues, promote greater participation in international dialogue and exchange and build bridges of mutual understanding and respect. Above all, sistering gives tangible expression to the belief that greater international understanding and cooperation will create a better world.

For both of these reasons, and despite the corruption that exists in every nation, we believe continuing to form partnerships and develop relationships with China, and other countries, is beneficial to Morton.

Extending Global Reach
Yinlun continues to grow and welcome other international companies, making space within its Morton building for incubation into the U.S. market. Meanwhile, Morton continues to receive inquiries from Chinese companies who have heard about our ability to assist them through the complexities of locating in the United States. Of course, the Morton EDC continues to assist anyone interested in creating high-quality jobs in our village… regardless of where they call home.

Who knows where these activities will lead us? With the global reach of Caterpillar and the rapid population growth and subsequent business development occurring overseas, it seems likely that our strategy will continue bearing fruit for Morton and the region as a whole. And if a small economic development council in a village of less than 17,000 can launch an international business development effort, then certainly any community can. iBi