Alibaba has just wrapped up Gateway ’17 in Detroit, its inaugural business summit designed to link US businesses with Chinese consumers. The two-day conference saw CEO Jack Ma give a nearly hour-long speech in which he extolled globalization and small business, and added, “The Alibaba dream was [gotten] from the American dream.”
Of course, he’s now selling the Chinese dream — specifically, the collective desires of a Chinese middle class that now numbers 300 million, a figure expected to double in the next 10 to 15 years. That’s a lot of purchasing power.
“It’s been an opening for young entrepreneurs who have the ideas, have the wherewithal, have the product,” said Martha Stewart.
About 3,000 people, mostly comprising small business owners, entrepreneurs and farmers, attended the conference. Speakers included Detroit mayor Mike Duggan, TV anchor Charlie Rose (who hosted a fireside chat with Ma), and Quicken Loans chairman/Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. Things kicked off on Tuesday with drummers suspended from the rafters, which is… unique.
A lot has been made about this being the first step for Ma in fulfilling a promise to Donald Trump to create 1 million jobs in the US. You might remember this tweet from January:
— Sean Spicer (@seanspicer) January 9, 2017
Even though that goal is “astoundingly implausible,” according to Christopher Balding, as quoted in a Quartz article, it might be a classic example of aiming big and landing among stars. Alibaba is also reportedly considering setting up a distribution center in Detroit.
The above Quartz article lists some key obstacles for Americans selling in China, such as language barrier and filling a market need. You can bet IP protection is also a big question. How different companies, including Alibaba itself, will address these issues in the future remains to be seen.
The prevailing attitude from Gateway ’17, however, was optimism. It’s an opportunity, as Ma repeatedly said. (“Small businesses, you have nothing to lose. The only thing you have to lose is the opportunity.”) And as Forbes points out:
During the Alibaba Global Shopping Festival last year, sellers from China and around the world sold $18 billion dollars worth of goods in 24 hours, 27% of which was sold by foreign brands and retailers, and the number one country of origin for these sales was the United States.
Not everyone will make it, but they have a chance… and maybe that’s enough to bolster the morale of a city still on the long road of recovery. Yes, at times it can all seem a bit fuzzy, like a dream — unrealized, potentially unreachable. But at least it’s there.