During the Cold War, it would have been difficult to imagine a Milwaukee museum staging an exhibit as a tribute to the artists of communist China, much less a Milwaukee company bragging about doing its part to help China build its industrial infrastructure.
But that's precisely what is happening today.
The Milwaukee Art Museum recently unveiled "Emperor's Private Paradise," a traveling exhibition of art from the Forbidden City.
The show is part of Milwaukee's "Summer of China," a series of exhibitions and programs devoted to exploring China's 3,000-year-old cultural heritage.
The Milwaukee show did not happen without some controversy. Some protestors say the museum should not glorify an exhibit compiled by the government of China, which has imprisoned artist Ai Weiwei and other Chinese artists who have expressed criticisms of that government.
In response, the Milwaukee Art Museum says its mission should not be constrained by the politics of the day. The museum also will host a July 7 panel discussion about the artist's detention and artists' rights in China.
By contrast, ManpowerGroup, a Milwaukee-based global staffing company, received little fanfare or static when it recently announced a bold new venture to develop and align China's manufacturing workforce as that country modernizes its industrial sector and expands operations into inland hubs.
"When combined with the company's established leadership in China, this strategy solidifies ManpowerGroup's position as the country's only provider of a full suite of innovative workforce solutions – ranging from executive search and recruitment process outsourcing, to large volume recruitment and temporary staffing," the company stated matter-of-factly.
"China is facing some of the most significant change and challenges yet seen in 30 years," said Darryl Green, ManpowerGroup president of Asia Pacific and Middle East. "The skill shortages, aging population, high-rising labor demands and increasing labor costs are just a few. With these issues in mind, ManpowerGroup has shaped its business in a way that can help our client address those issues through our solid local service network and expertise."
ManpowerGroup also was recently awarded a partnership with China's Ministry of Industry & Information Technology (MIIT) that will help develop a talent exchange center, enabling ManpowerGroup's local partners to create and implement comprehensive workforce solutions that align with China's manufacturing growth projections and the business strategies of individual manufacturers.
Manufacturers continue to be a key driver of China's economic growth, as an estimated $1.8 trillion in total industrial output is projected for 2011.
"As the western region becomes one of China's greatest strengths over the next 20 years, we have been consistently expanding our solutions in China to meet its surging demand for skilled workers who can effectively perform in a burgeoning and dramatically transformed sector," said Jeffrey Joerres, ManpowerGroup chairman, CEO and president.
"Identifying the right talent with the right technical skills in the right market is among our core strengths. It's a privilege to be honored with the MIIT partnership."
Let's step back and think about this for a moment. ManpowerGroup is helping to develop China's industrial capabilities at a time when American manufacturers are doing everything they can to compete against their Chinese counterparts.
This is not to say here that ManpowerGroup is doing anything morally wrong. It just may be the leading edge of the inevitable global interactions between the American and Chinese economies.
Going forward, look for more Milwaukee companies trying to grow in China. We invite you to keep yourself informed about the prevailing trends by reading BizTimes correspondent Einar Tangen's ongoing "Dispatches from China" series.
Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes in Milwaukee and is past president of the Milwaukee Press Club. BizTimes provides news and operational insight for the owners and managers of privately held companies throughout southeastern Wisconsin.
Steve has won several journalism awards as a reporter, a columnist and an editor. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
When he is not pursuing the news, Steve enjoys spending time with his wife, Kristi, and their two sons, Justin and James. Steve can be reached at email@example.com.