Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise

UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School
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Opening China’s Markets

UNC-Tsinghua Center promotes U.S.-China trade with research and solutions

The new Suzhou Industrial Park U.S. International Commodities Exhibition Center in Suzhou, China, is exactly the kind of success story planners envisioned when they launched the UNC-Tsinghua Center for Logistics and Enterprise Development in 2007.

The exhibition center, opened in October, showcases North Carolina products to the Chinese market and serves as a forward-staging area for sale and distribution of U.S. products and services – an easy, cost-effective way for companies to gain access to new markets in China and other Pacific Rim countries.

“This is the culmination of several years’ work by our industry partner, Longistics, to lay the foundation for this important facility that can provide a considerable export boost to North Carolina,” says Noel Greis, co-director of the UNC-Tsinghua Center with Linning Cai, professor of industrial engineering at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

Center grows out of multi-institutional collaboration

The UNC-Tsinghua Center grew out of a 2007 summit of logistics experts from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, planners of the 2008 Olympics, Chinese government officials and leaders from China’s top technology university, Tsinghua. They convened to plan China’s response to the enormous logistical and crisis-management challenges the country would face hosting the 2008 summer games.

“From those early collaborations grew the idea to combine the industrial engineering expertise of Tsinghua with the Kenan Institute’s knowledge of logistics and business to form a joint research center,” Greis says. “We would use technology to strengthen logistics systems, not just to ensure a smooth Olympics experience, but also to foster trade and commerce between the United States and China.”

Today, the center serves as a bridge between academia and the private sector and between the two countries to foster trade and commerce.

“As the number one and two economies in the world, more and more information, material and money are flowing between the two countries,” Cai says. “Our center serves an important role in making that happen in a way that serves both countries.”

Initiatives link major players

The center’s work focuses on industry practices that help U.S. companies develop logistics strategies for entering the Chinese market and help China develop a better domestic supply chain.

“We work directly with companies to solve current and foreseeable logistics challenges to stimulate trade and economic development in both countries,” Greis says.

“Our work with Longistics is a perfect example of this type of collaboration,” she says. “Our center helped the company develop a business strategy around the exhibition center and identify markets for North Carolina products, such as furniture and food commodities. We’ve also worked with Longistics on cold-chain improvements.”

The center’s key initiatives help clients and industry partners develop knowledge and tools to improve real-world supply chain operations and processes. Among them:

  • Cold chain logistics – working with companies in China to develop new practices, technologies and regulations that keep refrigerated food fresh and safe as it moves through the supply chain.
  • SIMSpace Lab – a virtual supply chain laboratory that tests new concepts and tools that advance the application of radio frequency identification and other automated supply chain systems.
  • Real-time software systems – developing smart software applications that are data driven and knowledge centered, with emphasis on real-time solutions.

The center also hosts symposia to convene global experts to focus on key issues, such as:

  • Ensuring food safety through better policies, practices and cold chains.
  • Modeling environmental considerations into supply chains.
  • Developing electronic “smart” supply chain logistics.

A 2012 symposium, “The Internet of Things,” will examine new track-and-trace technologies that electronically observe and control items in the supply chain in real time.

“With smart supply chain logistics, intelligence is built into the products themselves, making communication through the Internet possible,” Greis says. “It’s the newest direction in supply chain logistics and we’re very involved in developing that technology. The symposium will help push forward these new concepts.”

A new Global Supply Chain Leaders Program, targeting mid- to senior-level managers in China, will also launch in 2012. Executives who complete the 20-month dual-degree program will receive an MBA degree from UNC Kenan-Flagler and a master of engineering management degree from Tsinghua.

Industry partners provide knowledge and support

Industry partners play a key role, providing real-world challenges for center researchers and students and funding for center activities.

The center’s founding partners – Boeing, China Railway Container Corp., General Motors and Lenovo – have been joined by many others, including CP Group, DaChan, HCT Logistics, FoxComm, Longistics, Yum! Brands and Yuchai Group.

North Carolina-based Longistics has provided major financial support, creating the Kenan-Flagler China Logistics Excellence Fund. That fund enables the center to expand its services to U.S. companies that seek to conduct business in China.

“Our partnership with the Kenan Institute’s UNC-Tsinghua Center allows us to use our deep knowledge and understanding of the Chinese business world to help N.C.-based businesses,” says Longistics Chairman Duane Long, one of the center's industry board members and advisors and a member of the Kenan Institute Board of Trustees. “With the new SIP Exhibition Center, we’re providing an affordable platform and turnkey solution to help companies expand into new markets.”

For more information, contact:

Noel Greis, Ph.D.
Co-director, UNC-Tsinghua Center for Logistics and Enterprise Development
Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise
Campus Box 3440, Kenan Center
Chapel Hill, NC 25799-3440