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Published: Wednesday, 9/26/2012 - Updated: 1 year ago

Mayor Bell bemoans timing of Toledo’s China conference

He says political criticism may harm investment in city

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Mitt Romney calls the Chinese “cheaters."

President Obama boasts that he’s taken action to rein in unfair Chinese competition.

Toledo Mayor Mike Bell says he wishes both Mr. Romney and President Obama would have picked a different week to come to the Toledo area.

Toledo is host to dozens of Chinese investors on the same day that both presidential candidates will be in the area. Their presence alone could be a problem, Mr. Bell said.

“It is absolutely a hindrance,” he said. “I find it very interesting both candidates wind up in this area at the exact same time we are doing this when we still have plenty of days [before] the election to come here and do whatever. ... It is probably just a coincidence, but it sure is a weird one.”

The widening American-Chinese trade gap has become a key campaign issue.

Mr. Romney has promised to crack down on “cheaters like China.” The Obama campaign is reminding voters that the administration saved 1,000 jobs by imposing a tariff on Chinese-made tires to address what it said was a flood of underpriced tires.

Now with both candidates in the Toledo area today — the same time the city has rolled out a red carpet for Chinese investors — Mayor Bell frankly is wishing that President Obama and Mr. Romney would visit next week instead.

The mayor said the “political rhetoric” on China trade could hurt the bridge-building he and others in Toledo are trying to do with the dozens of Chinese businessmen, investors, and government officials in the city this week for the inaugural 5 Lakes Global Economic Forum. “If I compare it to a farmer trying to grow a crop, it is just as if it was time to harvest and someone drives a car through the field,” Mr. Bell said.

“There is political rhetoric and then there is what is actually happening inside the United States,” the mayor said Tuesday after a morning session at the 5 Lakes summit downtown. “I understand that politicians are going to say what they are going to say to be able to get in office, and they are going to say whatever they need to say to get elected, but the bottom line is, at the city level, there are a lot of these things going [on] just like what I am doing here with this Great Lakes conference ... so I understand they are doing what they need to do and I am doing what I need to do.”

The summit is co-coordinated by the Regional Growth Partnership and 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. Mr. Guo was among the team who introduced Mayor Bell to investors from China who ultimately purchased land at the Marina District and the Docks restaurant complex in East Toledo.

In September, 2011, a Chinese investment group called Five Lakes Global Group Ltd. spent $3 million to buy Toledo’s largest downtown hotel, the former Radisson Hotel, which had already been renamed the Park Inn — which is incidentally the site of the 5 Lakes Global Economic Forum.

Many of those attending the event are investors or representatives of commercial real estate companies looking to buy or invest in U.S. real estate and officials from Chinese manufacturers, technology companies, service firms, and information technology companies who are interested in establishing operations in the United States. There is also a contingent of university officials, medical doctors, researchers, and government officials at the three-day long event.

The mayor said talk on China resonates with people because “it is easy.”

“It is not just Michael Bell and it is not just the city of Toledo,” he said. “Other cities are getting moving ... and whatever is happening at the upper level is not slowing them down.”

Mr. Bell is planning to make his fourth trip to China Nov. 13 through Nov. 21.

Neither the Obama campaign nor the Romney campaign responded to telephone calls seeking reaction to the mayor’s comments.

Mr. Bell, an independent, has not been invited to greet either candidate today or during any previous trips — including President Obama’s Sept. 3 speech at Scott High School.

Toledo City Council President Joe McNamara, a Democrat, said the mayor was wrong to disparage the visits of either presidential candidate.

“Barack Obama has done more for Toledo than any single investor could do with his support for the auto industry,” Mr. McNamara said. “Because of his support for the auto industry, thousands of Toledoans have jobs so I think the mayor is missing the big picture. President Obama took a political risk to save the auto industry and he has a 24/7 welcome mat to come to Toledo.”

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.



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