Why China Matters to the Heartland

A Project Report by the US Heartland China Association

January 2022

The U.S. Heartland China Association (USHCA) is proud to launch the “Why China Matters to the Heartland” project. The project examines benefits of the U.S.-China relationship at the state level and provides an easy-to-access resource for Heartland states all on one platform.

Even as the U.S. and China shift toward strategic competition, USHCA believes that the interests of the American people are best served by thoughtful exploration of opportunities with the Chinese people, rather than a wholesale dismissal of ties. And so, we remain committed to promoting a productive and mutually beneficial relationship between the American heartland region and China through exchanges in culture, education and business. This project is an effort with that goal in mind.

“Why China Matters to the Heartland” is a resource for business leaders, state and local politicians, higher education professionals, and anyone else who wants to understand key data of the Heart- land’s cultural, educational and business ties to China. It also includes perspectives from Heartland community leaders that highlight the benefits their communities have reaped through exchange with China.

For example, did you know Illinois was the first state to open a trade office in China in 1974? Or that 70% of North Dakota’s soybeans—a crop originally from China—are now exported there? You might be surprised to learn that the five universities with the most Chinese students as percentage of international enrollment are all in Heartland states. Or that Denver and Kunming boast a 35-year sister-city relationship as well as recognition as “Most Innovative Sister Cities” for a joint initiative in Africa.

Few grasp the longevity and multi-faceted nature of the U.S.-China relationship across culture, education and business. “Why China Matters to the Heartland” helps put things in perspective.


This report is based largely on publicly available data from 2019 and 2020 that was compiled in Summer 2021. As such, we expect some numbers to shift in future reports. For example, due to COVID-19, Chinese student enrollment has dropped as much as 75% in some universities, while easing trade tensions and bumper crops in 2021 will likely boost future agricultural exports. We invite you to watch for future reports that include the latest data.

While data may shift alongside trade tensions or pandemics, the importance of the U.S.-China relationship remains constant. It is USHCA’s hope that this resource will help educate our communities about opportunities for exchange in culture, education and business that will benefit our Heartland states.

Our interns and staff strive to capture the most accurate data available. In the case you do see an error please let us know by email at contact@usheartlanchina.org.


This project was made possible thanks to our partners from across the American Heartland. We also want to thank the Ford Foundation and Henry Luce Foundation for their support of our organization.

Much appreciation also goes to the USHCA team of 2021 research interns Irene Qi, Marshall Summar, and Katherine Newton, who recently joined USHCA as a staff member.

We also want to thank Matt Chitwood whose help was crucial to the final completion of this project

Please contact us if you notice any incorrect data or have suggestions on improving this project. 

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