Addressing a group of about 40 Chinese business people Monday, Economic Development Coordinator for the city of Brookfield Tim Casey half-joked that he usually tells international business leaders that Brookfield is near Chicago because most have no idea what or where Milwaukee is.
If Milwaukee gets lost in the shuffle, how in the world can Brookfield compete on a global scale, I wondered?
Concordia College had arranged the assemblage at the Brookfield library, which gave Brookfield leaders a chance to showcase the city as a potential site for international businesses.
Visitor after visitor expressed interest in either buying a house or putting a business in the area, and it wouldn't have been surprising if Casey had run out of business cards.
It seemed all it took for people who live half-way across the world to fall in love with Brookfield was a quick visit.
Dan Ertl, director of commu nity development, told the group, "The best indicator for success isn't having a business owner choose to locate his business in Brookfield, but build a home and raise a family in Brookfield as well."
About half a dozen of these entrepreneurs and business leaders said they were interested, practically immediately, in buying a house in the city. Despite China's status as an emerging economic titan, communities like Brookfield that offer big lots and historic homes don't exist with much regularity in China.
Christine Kao from Concordia, the leader of the group and acting translator, quipped after one such would-be homebuyer voiced his interest that it meant "another half-million dollars left in the community."
The off-hand joke, though, struck a chord. For those watching, it was a startling moment, a jolt of reality: This was Brookfield's way to compete globally.
Brookfield does have a sister city in Germany and there are talks to create one in China to perhaps open up Asian markets. But to hear person after person talk about wanting to buy a home and meaning, very seriously, to do so as soon as possible, was more than encouraging.
One man suggested finding ways to help businessmen like him buy property now in a depressed market so that when his children are older and want to go to school, he can have a place to bring them.
It was the concern of just about every person in attendance, it seemed. It was as if to say, "I can succeed in business anywhere, but I want the place I live to be special."
As intuitive as that is, it would be easy to forget the biggest selling point for a community that has to be referred to by its distance to Chicago for fear of having an insufficient reference point.
Bringing business to Brookfield
Jing Wang, a regional manager for HP said the tech giant would love to have a logistics center in the United States given that about 60 percent of its sales, roughly $200 million, come from the United States.
She wanted to know if there were tax incentives and credits that could help her do that.
Casey couldn't run fast enough to get her his card.
On some level, the scene also was sublimely metaphoric. The digital world has connected us in ways we never thought possible. Mayor Steven Ponto waxed philosophic about the joys of being able to talk with his daughter working in Shanghai over Skype.
But here a group of Chinese business people were, hoping to invest in America, at a time when Americans can't seem to muster the courage or the capital to do so.
Much like American businesses must try to succeed in an international marketplace that has been shackled by European meltdowns and burdened by a sluggish U.S. economy, cities like Brookfield are trying to find the same type of success.
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