Dustin Walsh

The Michigan Strategic Fund authorized $5 million earlier this week to create the Michigan-China Innovation Center, a nonprofit designed to boost direct investment in the state from Chinese companies.

Brian Connors, formerly the China business development manager for the Michigan Economic Development Corp., will serve as the center’s executive director.

The funds from the 21st Century Jobs Fund will support operation of the center for five years, including startup costs, leasing of office space and travel, said Tony Vernaci, vice president of global business development for the MEDC.

The center has yet to lease space, Vernaci said.

“The center will focus on relationship development, management and identifying leads and getting them to the point of real opportunities (for investment),” Vernaci said. “They get the fish on the hook and then engages the MEDC so we can help with site selection and an incentive package.”

The group will be led by a three-person board that includes Connors; Antonio Luck, managing director of Detroit-based entrepreneur support firm Endeavor Detroit Inc.; and Matt Roling, director of business development for Dan Gilbert’s Rock Ventures LLC.

The center further enhances Gov. Rick Snyder’s goal of increasing foreign direct investment from China businesses and investors, Vernaci said.

Snyder has made five trade missions to China as governor of the state with intention of visiting every year of his governorship.

During his last trip in August, Snyder signed formal cooperative agreements with the provinces of Guangdong, Sichuan, Hubei and Zhejiang, as well as the city of Chongqing, which is independent of a province. Those regions already are home to auto companies and suppliers and support numerous connections to the state’s automotive industry. Those agreements are intended to support more of those connections, as well as cultural exchanges and tourism.

The state is home to about 200 Chinese companies representing $3 billion in direct foreign investment.