STERLING, Illinois - The world is getting a lot smaller in Whiteside County these days. That's as the region explores lucrative exports deals with China.
Inside Astec Mobile Screens on Tuesday, March 21, Chinese Consul General Hong Lei is learning about heavy equipment.
Astec makes products for building roads and other industrial applications.
It already does some business with China and is looking to expand with exports.
"We think, nowadays, China and the U.S., our relationship is the most important bilateral relationship in the world," said Hong Lei.
The consul, based in Chicago, is getting a good look at opportunities in Whiteside County.
According to the US-China Business Council, Illinois exported $5.5 billion in goods to China in 2015.
"If they've got a project, put it here," said Whiteside County Economic Development Director Gary Camarano.
That's why dozens of regional leaders visit Sauk Valley Community College. They're listening to Hong Lei and looking for ways to embrace the global economy with Chinese deals.
"Within a couple years, China and the U.S. will be two-thirds of the world's economy," Camarano continued.
In Sterling, that's important to Astec's 105 employees. This American company wants to sign more international contracts. It's also a way to grow locally.
"Ours is a very important cornerstone of world prosperity, peace and stability," Hong Lei continued.
Both countries are emphasizing cooperation, rather than confrontation, to guide the future.
"We've got the assets to help people get their products to the major markets," Camarano said.
This visit will help to bring the global economy close to home and help to build businesses in Whiteside County.
"We're hoping more Chinese investment will come to the area," Hong Lei concluded.