China’s largest e-commerce company, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., will host an event in Detroit this summer to lure Michigan agriculture firms to export to China, according to a source with knowledge of the matter who requested anonymity.
The procurement event, the first in the state for Alibaba, will take place at Cobo Center in late June, the conference center confirmed, though specific dates are not confirmed.
Michigan’s small- and medium-size food producers will hear pitches from Alibaba on how its e-commerce platforms could open up the Chinese market for Michigan, the source said. Jack Ma, Alibaba’s founder and one of China’s wealthiest people, is expected to attend.
Michigan exported $3.2 billion in products to China in 2016, making it the state’s third-largest export partner behind only Mexico and Canada. Automotive parts leads the list of exports to China, followed by agricultural products including soybeans, feed grain, dairy and vegetables.
Founded in Hangzhou, China, in 1999, Ma has built Alibaba into one of China’s largest companies, with a market capitalization of nearly $284 billion — more than Wal-Mart Stores Inc. at $227 billion, but less than competitor Amazon Inc. at $433 billion.
Alibaba’s 2014 initial public offering raised $25 billion on the New York Stock Exchange and introduced Alibaba to Western investors, though the company remains mostly unknown to U.S. shoppers despite its more than 450 million customers in more than 200 countries.
Yet U.S. tech companies are aware of Alibaba’s presence. Jerry Wang, a co-founder of Yahoo Inc., serves on Alibaba’s board and Yahoo has a $40 billion stake in the company, Fortune reported in March.
Earlier this year, Ma wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that Alibaba would enroll 1 million U.S. small businesses to its various e-commerce platforms, primarily on its Taobao and Tmall websites. The company claims its hosts 10 million merchants in China that employ 30 million people.
In January, Ant Financial Services Group, the payment affiliate of Alibaba, announced it would buy Dallas-based money-transfer company MoneyGram International Inc. for roughly $880 million.
Ma has also said he plans to use Alibaba to connect U.S. manufacturers with Chinese suppliers, Fortune reported.
China and Michigan have had a lucrative business connection for decades. Major Michigan companies already operate in China, such as Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co., Dow Chemical Co., Whirlpool Corp., BorgWarner Inc., Key Safety Systems Inc., among others. China’s Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp., Aviation Industry Corp. of China, Fuyao Auto Glass, Wanxiang Group and others own several…