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Jack Ma woos mom and pop shops in US jobs push

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Entrepreneurs like Mr Wolf are the sellers Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma wants to woo when he arrives in Detroit this week for his company's Gateway conference.

[NEW YORK] Sam Wolf moved his family's health and wellness business online more than a decade ago. The Conshohocken, Pennsylvania-based company runs its own warehouse and sells thousands of nutrition products in dozens of countries through its own website as well as on Amazon.com Inc and EBay Inc. But all that know-how didn't quite prepare Wolf for the experience of selling into China through Alibaba Group Holding Ltd's online stores.

Most small US companies don't have the brand awareness in China to stand out among the millions of goods on Alibaba's websites, let alone the expertise that's required to take a product from a US warehouse to a Chinese consumer's doorstep, cutting through the red tape to gain access to an otherwise inaccessible market. Alibaba is the virtual mall that houses the brands, but sellers are in charge of production and distribution with little clarity on the demand for their wares.

"If you want to get rich quick selling into China, this is not the way to do it," said Mr Wolf, who started LuckyVitamin's online store in 2005. "There's investment up front and inherent risk. This is not just like selling products on Amazon and EBay where you just sign up and list." Still, entrepreneurs like Mr Wolf are the sellers Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma wants to woo when he arrives in Detroit this week for his company's Gateway conference. The two-day event is drawing thousands of US business owners, from farmers to managers of more established brands, to learn how to succeed in China through Alibaba. For Mr Ma, it's following through on a promise he made to US President Donald Trump earlier this year to create one million jobs in the US.  While Mr Ma's offer was seen as good diplomacy after Mr Trump's tough campaign talk on trade and tariffs with China, it wasn't purely altruistic. Mr Ma has big ambitions. He sees Alibaba turning itself into one of the world's most powerful economies by serving 2 billion people and helping 10 million small businesses trade on the web. By his own calculation, Mr Ma says China will only be able to provide 40 per cent of that market. The rest will have to be found overseas. 

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