S.C., Hong Kong strengthening ties

Hong Kong is about 8,400 miles from Columbia, but the Chinese region sees a future in the Palmetto State.

The state's pro-business culture and auto industry could help attract more business from Hong Kong, said Donald Tong, the region's commissioner for economic and trade affairs in the United States. Hong Kong has its own political and economic identity, despite going under Chinese control in 1997.

Shortly before speaking at the annual USC Moore School of Business economic outlook conference this month, Tong talked to The State:

What are the ties between Hong Kong and South Carolina?

Hong Kong bought $108 million in goods from South Carolina in 2008, making it the state's 29th biggest export destination, Tong said. (Germany was first at nearly $4.8 billion, while China ranked fifth at $790 million, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.)

Hong Kong buys mostly chemical, computer and electrical goods from the state, he said.

Hong Kong has a presence in South Carolina, Tong said. One of its firms, TTI Group, owner of Ryobi and Homelite home improvement and lawn equipment, employs about 1,000 at an Anderson plant.

South Carolina and Hong Kong also swap engineering, computer science and business students in college exchange programs, he said.

Where do you see the relationship going in the future?

"You have a very strong auto industry, and we are now working on electric vehicles," Tong said.

He envisions companies working with the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research on batteries for cars, as well as getting computer and electric products for cars from S.C. companies.

What is South Carolina's reputation in the international business community?

The state's big economic wins in recent decades have not gone unnoticed overseas.

"You have a very pro business environment, and you have built that reputation with how you now have BMW and Boeing," Tong said. "That is why they came to your state."

How is business different in Hong Kong than in South Carolina?

Hong Kong government officials try to avoid over-regulation of businesses. "We are facilitators. We provide a conducive environment for business, and we don't want to interfere.

"We let them get the land, let them get the infrastructure, let them invest and let them do the best they can.

"The formula works well in Hong Kong. ... There are a lot of lessons that we could share with each other."