ANCHORAGE - In a politically charged speech about her recent trip to Asia, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski laid out the complexities, advantages and opportunities of doing business with China and Korea. Murkowski spoke at a World Trade Center Alaska luncheon in late February. In an interview with the Journal following her presentation, Murkowski said there are some new opportunities for tourism and trade between Alaska and the two Asian nations.
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Murkowski said that the Chinese economy has developed to the point that its citizens are amassing wealth.
"The Chinese are looking to travel, they are looking to come where the air is clean, the mountains are big, and they are excited about Alaska as a tourism destination," she said. "The Chinese are looking for that opportunity to see something and be somewhere. It's close, it's exotic, this is a wonderful opportunity for all of us."
According to Andrew Larson with the Alaska Travel Industry Association, fewer than 1,000 Chinese visit Alaska currently each year. Larson believes that this number will increase because Chinese tourists now have more income.
While in China, Murkowski met with the American Chinese Chamber of Commerce. Murkowski said the Chinese are very interested in not only continuing doing business with Alaska but want to help open up new areas of commerce between the regions.
As an example, Murkowski said she was enthused and startled to find that the Alaska oil field services company, Udelhoven, was doing business in China.
"The field service industry has been welcomed in," Murkowski said. "How many years ago would they have said, 'Sorry, go somewhere else, we are not interested."'
According to Udelhoven, the company has been in China for three years and has 12 full-time employees there.
"We are now out of the investment phase and running in the black, things are looking really good for the future there," said Jim Udelhoven, chief executive officer of the firm. Udelhoven said his company was offering project management and inspection service to the Chinese oil field sectors.
According to Murkowski, the Chinese Minister of Energy, who understands what can be done with capitalism in terms of opening a more free market globally, is interested in attracting more Alaska involvement by allowing more business partnerships.
"These opportunities for us are new," Murkowski said.
Other Alaska goods that are of interest by the Chinese come in the area of agriculture, specifically the production of potatoes and carrots.
"Evidently the Chinese have a problem with some plant diseases and are keenly interested in Alaska's fresh potatoes and carrots," she said.