For the many Minnesotan businesses that operate in China, the Coronavirus outbreak has proved difficult to navigate, but not impossible. The center of the outbreak is a seafood market in Wuhan, a city with a population of over 11 million people in the Hubei Province. As of February 10, authorities had confirmed over 41,000 cases of the virus in countries ranging from Malaysia to Australia, and the United States to France. The overwhelming majority of those affected, however, are in China, with roughly 40,000 confirmed cases and over 900 deaths.
New travel restrictions and quarantines for travelers coming from China present unique challenges to Minnesotan companies with Chinese presences. These companies include Target, Ecolab, Cargill, and Best Buy which, according to the US-China Business Council, exported $2.8 billion in goods to China in 2018, supporting nearly 27,000 Minnesotan jobs. Travel restrictions to the United States and ensuring worker safety are the top priorities for these companies, but they are also using their presence to offer aid and assistance to local Chinese populations.
Minnetonka-based Cargill, which employs 10,000 people across China has pledged nearly $300,000 for relief efforts through the Chinese Red Cross. Ecolab from St. Paul has more than 3,000 associates in China and is utilizing its medical expertise in infection protection to help the local population. They have also supplied hand hygiene solutions and disinfectants to mitigate the risks associated with Coronavirus. Furthermore, 3M has donated medical supplies such as surgical masks and respirators to affected areas in China, and continues to work with numerous humanitarian aid agencies. This aid centers upon Minnesota’s biggest export to China: medical equipment. The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development reported that these exports totaled $808 million in 2018 alone.
This aid comes at a time of heightened need on the part of the Chinese and amongst a backdrop of continued US-China trade tensions. Despite this, the Minnesotan companies have provided much needed aid to the communities in which they operate, helping China confront this outbreak while ensuring a safe supply chain.
Joshua Martelli is a participant of the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. He is a second year undergraduate student at the University of Western Australia studying a Bachelor of Arts, double-majoring in Political Science, International Relations and Asian Studies.