According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, China is the fourth largest international trading partner for the Pittsburgh region, behind Canada, Mexico and Japan.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said he hopes that a recently signed deal will lead to enhanced business ties with China. While in there earlier this month, Fitzgerald and Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis, signed an agreement with Caissa, one of China’s largest travel agencies.
“For the next three years, they're going to be bringing charter flights exclusively to Pittsburgh,” Fitzgerald said. “So when they come to America, they're coming to Pittsburgh.”
Fitzgerald said Pittsburgh is the first U.S. region to tap into China’s growing tourism market.
“We are excited to enter into this historic partnership with Pittsburgh International Airport and the Pittsburgh region to offer an additional travel option to the United States,” said Caissa Touristic President Chen Xiaobing in a statement. “Pittsburgh will be a great connection to Chinese markets.”
Fitzgerald said the chartered flights will begin in the fall and that he believes this will bring in a lot of tourism dollars because the growing Chinese middle class “has money to spend.”
According to Fitzgerald, representatives of Pittsburgh-area companies that now fly to China through New York or Toronto will have a direct route.
“This will be a way for folks to be able to get back directly on a fairly cheap flight," he said.
Fitzgerald said that his five-day trip to China was more than about tourism, though.
"It’s all about economic development and job creation," he said.
He stopped in Beijing and Shanghai and said that Chinese officials are interested in enhancing business ties in the energy and manufacturing sectors, as well as self-driving vehicles.
“One city has 21 million people and the other city has 24 million people," Fitzgerald said. "So, as you can imagine, transportation and traffic and gridlock is a concern and how they move people. Autonomous vehicles was something that they were very much interested in.”
He said he expects the business relationship to continue to be strengthened in the tech sector, education and robotics.