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Published: Friday, 8/31/2012

Preparations firm up for visitors from China

Businessmen, investors to attend 5 Lakes Global Economic Forum

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

In just more than three weeks, dozens of Chinese businessmen, investors, and government officials will make their way to Toledo for the inaugural 5 Lakes Global Economic Forum.

Although preparations for the event, scheduled for Sept. 24-26 at the Park Inn Hotel downtown, are mostly complete, organizers say some key issues are yet to be nailed down.

For one thing, U.S. entry visas for between 150 and 200 Chinese visitors are a work in progress.

EVENT AT A GLANCE
  • What: 5 Lakes Global Economic Forum
  • When: Sept. 24-26
  • Where: Park Inn Hotel in downtown Toledo
  • Who: 150 to 200 potential investors from China, plus business leaders and economic development officials from northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan
  • Why: To show foreign business leaders the advantages of investing in the Toledo area

"We've been tracking it closely. It has entailed a tremendous amount of work getting the visas approved," said Paul Zito, vice president of international development for the Regional Growth Partnership, which is co-coordinating the conference with 5 Lakes Global Group Ltd., a consulting group headed by Simon Guo, a Chinese translator, deal broker, and Toledo-area resident who has repeatedly brought Chinese investors to the region.

"We have been getting updates every other day of who has gotten their visas and who is coming," Mr. Zito said.

The list of visitors who have committed to attend has been divided into three general groups.

Foremost will be Chinese investors or representatives of commercial real estate companies looking to buy or invest in U.S. real estate.

Then comes a number of officials from Chinese manufacturers, technology companies, service firms, and information technology companies who are interested in establishing operations in the United States.

Last are a number of university officials, medical doctors and researchers, and government officials. "People say to me, 'Government people?' But they don't realize their importance. In China, the government people need to sign off on it if a company or individual wants to invest in another country," Mr. Zito said.

The visitors committed to attend the conference represent the auto, renewable energy, machine tooling, plastics, and polymers industries in China, he added.

Besides visas, an issue somewhat unresolved is commitments from those based in the Toledo region who will attend and act as hosts or counterparts to the Chinese visitors.

Conference organizers want 200 regional officials to attend, and they will be there by invitation only.

A "save the date" notice was sent to the potential attendees weeks ago, but trouble with an online registration site that only recently was fixed has kept formal invitations from going out until now.

"We hoped to have it done a few weeks ago, but people have to remember that this is a new venture that's never been done before and is all being done by volunteers," Mr. Zito said.

He added that official invitations will be sent out over the next several days, and only afterward will organizers know exactly who from the region will attend.

"The group of locals we want are from companies and agencies that can help an overseas industry get going here," he said.

"So we've targeted service providers -- banks, insurance companies, construction firms, architects, engineering firms, and commercial real estate people."

Overall, though, planning is going well, he said.

Mr. Zito said a full schedule of events that will augment potential investment in the area has been set up.

"There will be plenty of opportunity for the overseas visitors to get to know the area and network with area business people. And that's really the most important thing," he said.

When the conference was announced in late June, only eight sponsors had been secured for the event.

Eighteen have been added since.

Also, the event is getting a lot of unexpected -- but very welcome -- exposure, Mr. Zito said.

"We're hearing very good things. We've gotten tremendous publicity," he said.

The event received publicity from the National Association of Realtors and was publicized through that organization in unexpected locales, such as Wichita, Kan., and Honolulu, Mr. Zito said.

Recently, it was mentioned in an article in the London-based Economist news magazine, he added.

"It's very, very favorable publicity, and to me, that is a dream come true. That kind of exposure from this, and what's going on around the world, is just phenomenal," Mr. Zito said.

"I see the mention of the 5 Lakes Global conference as really kind of a vehicle for the region."

"What I want is for an overseas executive or an executive in Chicago or Dallas seeing that [exposure] and saying, 'Wow. Things are really going on in Toledo. Maybe we need to do something there,' " he said.

Contact Jon Chavez at: jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.



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