From Peoria to China

Globalization has come to Peoria, the quintessential small town. Caterpillar is sending Illinois Central College business students to study for a semester in China, writes Richard Longworth, author of Caught in the Middle: America’s Heartland in the Age of Globalism, in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

It’s early morning, and a vanload of students from Peoria, Ill., is on the expressway, en route to a Caterpillar factory. This is not surprising, considering that Caterpillar is headquartered in Peoria. Except that this Cat factory is in Tianjin, a Chinese city near Beijing, and these are community-college students, most of whom have seldom been out of Illinois, let alone the United States.

Peoria hopes to succeed by focusing on high-level manufacturing, exporting and logistics, Longworth writes. Illinois Central College is helping make that happen.

Caterpillar contracted with the community college to set up training courses for dealers and distributors, first in the United States and then overseas.  Two Chinese colleges, in Shenzhen and Xiamen, use the ICC course to train Chinese distributors.

Shenzhen Polytechnic, a large three-year school inear Hong Kong, now hosts a three-month program for interational business students. About five to 10 ICC students are chosen competitively for the program.

 The students live in college dorms and study in classes, taught in both English and Chinese, with students from other countries, including Russia—another personal window onto the wider world.

Students spent a fast week traveling to cities like Beijing, Tianjin, and Fuzhou. Some of this, including a visit to the Great Wall, was tourism. But most was business-related.

We visited the Caterpillar Electric Power Division plant in the free-trade zone at Tianjin and spent another day in the textile center of Changle at Fujian Jinjiang Technology Company, a highly automated mill spinning polymer pellets into different grades of nylon thread, mostly for sportswear. The company calls itself “young but full of ambition”—a good description of post-Mao China itself.

After their travels, students return to Shenzhen for three months of study and interning.  Some will work in a local office of Bosch, a German conglomerate that now owns a sprinkler company in Peoria.