Published May 2006

The China Connection
Kent Mao of Edmonds is helping U.S. companies
tap China’s growing markets

By John Wolcott
SCBJ Editor

When China’s President Hu Jintao visited Everett in late April, he toured Microsoft’s Redmond campus, was the honored guest at a dinner for scores of business and political leaders at Bill Gates’ Lake Washington home, toured the Everett Boeing plant with CEO Alan Mulally, and joined more than 300 business leaders and state officials for a luncheon at Mukilteo’s Future of Flight center.

But a much less publicized meeting on the Chinese president’s full agenda, before he flew to Washington, D.C., to engage in trade talks with President Bush, was a private meeting with Kent Mao of Edmonds and a small group of local Chinese professionals and students.
Snohomish County Business Journal/

“Washington can not only sell apples and wines (to China) but also environmental products and services,” said Kent Mao, an Edmonds resident who is the Chairman and CEO of North American Industrial Investment Co. Ltd. in Seattle, with four offices in China. “I believe in the future trend for (more) foreign investment in China.”

Mao, an American citizen fluent in English and Chinese, has established himself over the past 20 years as a talented and well-connected international trade figure in China, where he is much more prominent than in the Pacific Northwest. His ties with Chinese and American government leaders and trade officials make his role as a bridge between the Pacific Northwest and northeast China unique in his field.

As founder, Chairman and CEO of North America Industrial Investment Co. Ltd. in Seattle, Mao specializes in fostering international trade between the Pacific Northwest — including Snohomish County — and northeast China, historically known as Manchuria. With more than 25 years of engineering and business experience, he is immersed in development of the newest parts of China to open to foreign investment and trade.

“This is the heavy industries part of China, where there was much development of steel, iron and petrochemical plants. After the great cultural revolution in 1969, that area was virtually closed to the world,” Mao said. “Now, China has opened up its northeastern areas for capitalism and growth, including the provinces of Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang, and cities such as Dalian and Shenyang.”

Mao’s firm and his investment partners have acquired two state-owned thermal power plants and related thermal supply utilities valued at $300 million in northeast China, with employment of 4,000.

Because of his knowledge and skills, the Chinese central government in Beijing, and several provincial governments, have appointed Mao as a senior consultant and adviser. He assists them in identifying, evaluating and selecting joint-venture partners, technologies, products, consulting services and capital funding for key industrial projects in that country, particularly in the northeast sectors.

Recognized in 2005 by the Chinese Central Government State Council as one of the top 100 Overseas Chinese Professional Entrepreneurs, Mao has established close connections with a wide array of influential senior Chinese government officials, provincial leaders and senior executives of industrial, manufacturing and financial institutes in China.

Last March, he was chosen as one of only two dozen specially invited overseas Chinese representatives to attend the annual CPPCC (Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference) and National Congress meetings to unveil China’s new five-year plan for 2006-2010. That plan, he said, focuses much of the country’s future development in a previously neglected area, the Northeast.

Travel is part of Mao’s business, family life

Born in China and now an American citizen, Edmonds resident Kent Mao is founder, Chairman and CEO of North American Industrial Investment Co. Ltd., a business development, investment and consulting firm with headquarters in the Bank of America tower in Seattle, plus an office in Beijing and three offices in northeast China.

He earned a degree in civil engineering from the esteemed Tsinghua University in Beijing, China — where Chinese President Hu Jintao also graduated with an engineering degree — then came to the United States, where he graduated from Colorado State University with a master’s degree in civil engineering and a Ph.D. in civil and environmental planning and management.

“I was in the admission class of 1977 at Tsinghua University, which is significant in China because it was the first class to be admitted to the university after the great cultural revolution,” he said.

A robust, energetic man, Mao has his private life and personal interests, too, from doing his own Chinese and American cooking to hiking and “spending a lot of time on the Internet browsing for information on the United States and China. My wife calls my computer my ‘second’ wife,” he said with a laugh.

An athlete in his university days — favoring the 100-yard dash and gymnastics — Mao still stays so fit that his favorite exercise is stair-climbing in skyscrapers.

“Our Dalian office is on the 52nd floor of the World Trade Center there. I use the stairs up and down every day. I love it. In Shenyang, there are only 36 floors to climb to our office,” he said, sounding disappointed.

His wife, Lily Zhang, has taught Japanese language classes in the Edmonds School District for 15 years, after originating the program in the school system. Their daughter Jennifer will attend the honors programs this fall at the University of Washington and Jessica is an eighth-grader.

Even his family life, however, is interwoven with world economies, travel, technology and global issues.

“I spend months sometimes in China, but I keep in touch with them here by calling daily, exchanging e-mails and chatting online. We even have pictures and sound on our computers so we can see each other and discuss what’s going on in our lives. Each year, our whole family goes to China for a month. It helps the girls keep up on their Chinese and gives all of us time together,” he said.

— John Wolcott, SCBJ Editor

Mao’s senior adviser, Mike McCarthy of Monroe, said, “Northeast China, and particularly the port city of Dalian, have become attractive locations for Japanese companies to outsource much of their work.”

McCarthy, who is well versed in Mandarin Chinese, has more than 30 years of experience in foreign and domestic trade and investments and teaches business strategy in the Seattle area.

“The city of Dalian is mentioned prominently in Thomas Friedman’s book, ‘The World is Flat,’ which focuses on how the world has been changed by modern communications networks, the Internet, world trade and outsourcing in a world economy,” McCarthy said. “Friedman notes that Dalian has 22 universities and colleges with more than 200,000 students, that more than half of those students graduate with engineering or science degrees, and the fact that more than half the residents of the city have Internet access at their homes, schools or offices.”

Friedman’s book, he said, quotes the mayor of Dalian as observing that visitors are “amazed at how fast the Chinese economy is growing in this high-tech area” and cautions that “Americans don’t realize the challenge (of China’s growing impact) to the extent that they should.”

While American news media are focusing on such issues as China’s orders for Boeing airliners, efforts to curb the blatant piracy of Microsoft software programs and ways of reducing the record $202 billion trade imbalance between China and America, Mao sees the growth of a broader market for small to medium-size enterprises that have the right technology, services, management expertise and products.

In a “report on the government” at the 10th National People’s Congress last March, State Council Premier Wen Jiabao said the new five-year plan must help the country solve numerous problems.

“While acknowledging our successes, we must also clearly realize that there are still many difficulties and problems in China’s economic and social activities,” he said.

The plan calls for intensifying efforts to restructure industries; conserve resources and protect the environment; reinvigorating China through science, education and human resources; launching a number of major scientific and technological projects in strategic industries such as information technology and biotechnology; and opening China “even further” to the outside world.

Mao said he believes China’s extensive need for Western technology, services and products could have an enormous economic impact on Snohomish County and the Pacific Northwest.

For more information, contact Mao at North American Industrial Investment Co. Ltd., 206-262-8228, at on the Web or at Because Mao often is in China, contact also may be made with his senior adviser, Mike McCarthy, at 206-661-4871 or by e-mail to

Related: Infrastructure needs grow with China's economy

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© 2006 The Daily Herald Co., Everett, WA