Bob Holden: Notes from America's Heartland

Jan 27 , 2021

Bob Holden, Chairman & CEO of United States Heartland China Association and the Former Governor of Missouri.


I want to thank the organizers and Mr. Tung for the opportunity to share some thoughts concerning the U.S.-China rela-tionship from the perspective of trade and economy.

When I was the governor of Missouri, I opened Missouri's first office in China, seeing the potential of working with China to improve the economy of my state.  

As president of the Midwest Governors Association at that time, and now as the chairman and CEO of the United States Heartland China Association — a grassroot, bipartisan nonprofit representing 20 states from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico — I speak for the Heartland region of the United States. We very much value our trade relationships with China and hope to find a path on which we can prosper together. 

Along with my friend Steve Orlins at the national committee, I recently met with a group of eight former governors from across the U.S. We all agree that trade with China, student exchanges with China, investments from and into China and tourists from China are essential to our states' economies.  These are foundations that we can rebuild a stable U.S.-China relationship on.  

Beyond the former governors' circle and throughout our partner network, we hear the same message.  It is about the economy. It is about jobs.

Our Heartland region is important for what we produce, the leadership we have, our central location and our commitment to work with everyone whose values we share. Our Heartland economy is built around agriculture, manufacturing, transportation and education. We have over 400 Fortune 1000 corporation headquarters in our Heartland region.  

In agriculture, nine of the top 10 highest-ranking states are located in our Heartland. In manufacturing, eight of the top 10 states are located in our Heartland region. Five of the top 10 states that are recognized as “Best States” are in the Heartland region.

What is surprising to many people is the influence our Heartland region has in our country. Since World War II, eight of 14 presidents have come from the Heartland region, and a number of vice presidents, cabinet secretaries, ambassadors and key officials as well have ties to the Heartland region.     

President Biden has made several announcements of people for his cabinet. Here are three of many:

• Secretary of Agriculture: Tom Vilsack, Iowa
• Secretary of Energy: Jennifer Granholm, Michigan
• Secretary of Transportation: Pete Buttigieg, Indiana

But if you look at the recent U.S. election results, you will see that our country is splintering into two worlds — the coastal regions and the Heartland region, the communities that benefited greatly from global trade and those that were left behind.  

Despite the influence we have, the Heartland region has many communities that need better jobs, safer infrastructure and more economic opportunities. I believe this is where a rebalancing of U.S.-China trade and using the power of the economy to create goodwill along the way can go a long way in rebuilding a stable U.S.-China relationship going forward.  

Here are some suggestions I have:

• Broader collaboration on agriculture. Agriculture is becoming a very significant tie and beneficial to both China and the U.S. It is imperative that we strengthen our ties and support continued dialogue and collaboration in order to strengthen a mutually beneficial relationship on agriculture and beyond.

• More foreign direct investment into the Heartland. Just like Fuyao Glass's $700 million investment in Ohio that created 2,300 jobs changed the perception of China in Ohio, more world-class Chinese companies coming to the Heartland will be good for the U.S. Heartland and good for the global ambition of leading Chinese enterprises.

• Infrastructure investment. Across the Heartland region, along our rivers, there is a huge need to rebuild our waterways, bridges and highways. This could be a win-win for people and cultures in our Heartland, and for China.

• Climate change and renewable energy. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that our world has got to figure out how we can rally around shared challenges. We need to figure out how countries around the world can do a better job of protecting all of us.

• Last but not least, invest in education. We should continue to look for areas in education where we can collaborate. There is much we can learn from each other and benefit the world, especially for our younger generations.

Our Heartland region is the crossroads of our country and the world. We are closely tied to the world through the corporations located in our region, the agriculture and manufacturing base that comes from our region and the higher-education institutions that train the workforces of the future. We are in an excellent position if we can create new trade and economic partnerships for shared success. 

Our success will be judged by our ability to find common ground where we can work together in a more peaceful world. In doing so, we all can win.