The first full day of pleasantries, speeches, and informational sessions got going Tuesday at the inaugural 5 Lakes Global Economic Forum at the Park Inn in downtown Toledo.
But the real purpose of the three-day event — an opportunity for networking and forging personal relationships among nearly 160 businessmen, educators, and government officials visiting from China and their northwest Ohio counterparts — started in full swing well before a set of ceremonial bells outside the hotel’s grand ballroom were rung to welcome forum participants Tuesday morning.
“We started an hour later than we were supposed to [on Monday night] for our official greeting and mixer because everybody was so busy networking,” said a broadly smiling Dean Monske, president of the Regional Growth Partnership.
The growth partnership and 5 Lakes Global Ltd., a local consulting group headed by Toledoan Simon Guo that has extensive ties to China, are staging the economic forum in conjunction with multiple sponsors from northwest Ohio. The goal is to have the Chinese attendees, many of whom are investors or represent major Chinese companies, meet Toledo businessmen, tour the area, and see firsthand whether the city and region are worthy of investment.
“Relationships are what we expect at the end of the day, just to make business connections,” Mr. Monske said. “But it’s already happening. At the speeches this morning [Tuesday], a lot of people weren’t in the room. They were out in the halls making deals.
“This has absolutely met, if not exceeded, our expectations,” he added.
And while Monday’s day of registration and informal networking led to more get-togethers Tuesday, tangible news came out of the formal sessions.
Youbo Pharmaceutical Group, China’s top pharmaceutical company, announced that it will establish a training platform for Chinese doctors at the University of Toledo Medical Center, the former Medical College of Ohio. Li ZhenGou, president of Youbo, unveiled a ceremonial glass plaque identifying the new Youbo-Toledo program, with a promise to “bring doctors to Toledo on a regular basis.”
In addition, Sun Wansong, director of the Investment Promotion Agency of China’s Ministry of Commerce, or CIPA, said that each year he brings a delegation of Chinese investors to the United States, and that after visiting Toledo, he plans to add the city to his annual itinerary. Mr. Sun has negotiated and set up technology centers in Massachusetts and the Silicon Valley area of California and signed memorandums of understanding at 10 American universities.
“Today [Tuesday] is the beginning of a relationship of CIPA and Toledo,” Mr. Sun said through an interpreter. “Our goal is to build relationships between China and other countries.”
The morning session also featured Mark Kvamme, chief investment officer for JobsOhio, the quasi-private state agency that oversees economic development.
Mr. Kvamme spoke of how Ohio has gone from 48th in the United States in job creation to fourth, creating 123,000 jobs in the last three years. The JobsOhio chief explained that as transportation costs have risen, states such as Ohio have gained cost equilibrium with low-cost foreign producers such as Mexico, Japan, Vietnam, and China, raising direct foreign investment levels in Ohio to 30 percent of the state's gross domestic product.
“We want you to understand that this is the place that you need to have — manufacturing capability and investment in — in order to access the great American markets,” Mr. Kvamme said.
Lin Bai, an executive from a logistics company in Shenyang, China, said that until a few days ago his knowledge of Toledo was zero.
“This is a city none of us had ever heard of,” Mr. Lin said through an interpreter. “But now I’m starting to understand that it’s a great place to be,” he said, adding that the 5 Lakes Global forum has been “a great success for creating relationships between China and the U.S.”
Mr. Lin, a logistics executive, said he was only considering shipping goods to and from American seaports on either the east or west coasts. But now he realizes goods can be shipped out of Toledo. “I’m excited about the opportunities,” he added.
Timothy Pedro, vice president of TTL Associates Inc. of Toledo, a company that does assessment and remediation of brownfield industrial sites, said he made connections with some Chinese businessmen by networking through an interpreter on Monday night, but that the overall impact on the region seemed far more important.
“I think this is just phenomenal,” he said. “I think it’s just great for northwest Ohio.”
For Mr. Guo, a deal-maker who came up with the forum idea a few years ago and has worked hard to pull it off, Tuesday was a dream come true. “Everything is just spectacular,” he said. “You just see a lot of engagement between both sides going on” said Mr. Guo, adding that he plans to make the forum an annual event.
Tuesday night, attendees went to a reception at the Hollywood Casino Toledo. Today the Chinese visitors are scheduled to take one of four tours of the area, while their American counterparts are to hear about investment and business opportunities in China from Chinese officials.
Contact Jon Chavez at: email@example.com or 419-724-6128.