(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a two-part series focused on Elizabeth Rowland and her goal of helping secure more foreign direct investment in Tennessee while also helping more Tennessee companies do business in emerging markets like China.)
By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
Knoxville native Elizabeth Rowland is on a mission, and it’s all about maximizing international business opportunities in Tennessee, with a particular focus on China.
Rowland left Knoxville in 1997 to attend college and, with the exception of brief stints, she lived away from the community until returning a little more than a year ago. During her nearly 16 years away, including four years as owner of a small jewelry company that sourced from China and more than three years as a China policy analyst, Rowland developed a passion for international business and trade. She now wants to put her experience to use in her home state.
When Rowland returned to Knoxville in late 2013 to be closer to family, she recalls asking, “What would a China policy analyst do here?” The answer was to create her own job.
She traveled across Tennessee to learn more about what was going on in the state related to business with China. The knowledge gained from those discussions led Rowland to start a state-wide organization called the TN-China Network (TNCN) this past fall.
She’s since also started championing the idea of creating an International Business Council (IBC) in the greater Knoxville region.
Rowland’s international education outside of Tennessee began when the Farragut High School graduate left Knoxville in 1997 to study international affairs at the University of Colorado in Boulder. She then worked on several election campaigns and served for two years as a Legislative Assistant to then Congressman Harold Ford, Jr.
Rowland and a friend visited China in 2004, a trip that she describes as a “mind-blowing experience.” After Ford decided to seek a U.S. Senate seat in 2006 and lost to Bob Corker, Rowland elected to move to China.
Her first foray into international trade began in 2007 while she was living in Shanghai, where she started the jewelry company Abella Galleries, designing beaded turquoise necklaces, manufacturing them in China, and exporting them to the U.S.
“I learned a great deal about the cultural differences that can create problems when dealing with manufacturers in China,” Rowland says of the knowledge that could benefit any company wanting a business relationship with a Chinese manufacturer.
Along the way, she earned a Master’s Degree in International Affairs with a concentration in China Studies from The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) and did a six-month internship with the Bureau of East Asia and Pacific Affairs Office of Economic Policy at the U.S. Department of State.
Next up was a two-year tour of duty as a Senior Policy Analyst with the American Chamber of Commerce in China and another year in Beijing as a Senior Manager of Policy Analysis for Covington & Burling, an international law firm. Each of these experiences further deepened Rowland’s passion for and expertise in US-China commercial relations, investment, and trade.
“From 2012 to 2013, outbound investment from China into the U.S. doubled to $14 billion, and in 2014 the number of acquisitions and total spending on greenfield investments reached new highs,” Rowland notes, citing numbers from the Rhodium Group. “Globally, China is the third largest outbound investor, behind only the U.S. and Japan.”
That fact translates into a good deal of economic opportunity for her home state
NEXT: How the TN-China Network can help the Volunteer State.