Rocky Barker in China: Ties more than a century old link Gem State, Guangdong

Otter helps an eastern Idaho company make inroads in the ancestral home of thousands of Idahoans

rbarker@idahostatesman.comJune 10, 2010 

GUANGZHOU — Gov. Butch Otter reaffirmed the long ties Idaho has with the Guangdong Province Wednesday that sent thousands of Chinese to Idaho in the 1800s including the heroic Polly Bemis.

Gov. Wuang Hua Hua, the head of the richest province in China, welcomed Otter in a formal ceremony that was capped with support for an Idaho company's license to sell health, wellness and cleaning products here. Later, Otter plugged Idaho potato products to Sam's Club and encouraged Chinese investors to come to Idaho.

The visit was the first for an Idaho governor to the booming economic zone that accounts for a third of the nation‚s economy. But Otter has been to he region a half a dozen times, the first in 1978. That was right after Chinese Communist Party Leader Deng Xiaoping opened up the province in the Pearl River Delta near Hong Kong to expanded capitalist investment.

"Guangdong and Idaho are following similar paths," Huang said through an interpreter.

Both began as largely agricultural and resource states but have now greatly expanded their economies around high technology. And Huang urged Idaho and Guangdong share engineering and construction expertise, agriculture development, new energy technology, student exchange programs and two-way investment programs.

Otter agreed but came with a specific request for Melaleuca, the Idaho Falls-based direct sales company that markets more than 350 natural health and wellness products. He asked Huang to help the company get a license to do direct marketing in Guangdong Province, where today it only can have stores.

Melaleuca was awarded the 18th license for direct sales in China along with companies like Amway, Avon and Mark Kay Cosmetics, which were very well advertised around Guangzhou.

"We look at Guangzhou as our regional headquarters," said Paul Haacke, Melaleuca international vice president.

Wuang agreed and sent Haacke to a lower level official to work out the details. Exports accounted for $382 million of Melaleuca's sales and China accounts for a bg part of that Haacke said.

The company estimates that 149 jobs in Idaho are tied to its exports and the potential expansion in China coud create jobs in both places, Haacke said.

Polly Bemis was born Lalu Nathoy in Taishan County, a part of the province in 1853 and came to Idaho as a slave. Her owner owned a saloon in Warren during the gold rush there but she was able to work her way to freedom by the 1880s. She married Charlie Bemis and they moved to a small ranch on the Salmon River. Otter recounted her story to Huang and told of the pride Idahoans had for her.

"There's still a large ranch named after her on the banks of the River of No Return," Otter said.

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