5 Lakes Forum kicks off

Attendees from China pour into city for development event


The inaugural 5 Lakes Global Economic Forum being held in Toledo got started unofficially Monday afternoon as scores of attendees from China arrived at the Park Inn Hotel downtown to register for the event, check into their rooms, and rest up after a very long day of international travel.

“Some are arriving via Chicago, others Detroit, New York, and San Francisco,” said Tracy Sallah, chief planner for the three-day event that is bringing together 150 visitors from China and an equal number from northwest Ohio to network, sightsee, and discuss potential economic investment in Ohio and in China.

One group of visitors, made up of about 20 cerebral vascular surgeons and internal medicine physicians, top Chinese hospital officials, and representatives from Youbo Pharmaceutical Group, which is China’s top pharmaceutical company, arrived several days ago and set off on a brief tour Monday of the Toledo riverfront and the University of Toledo.

Some members of that group have been working closely with University of Toledo pharmacology professor and researcher Zijian Xie to develop a vaccine against types of stroke. The vaccine, which cannot be used in the United States, would be developed using Chinese medicine techniques and for use in China only. 

But Sarah Zimmerman, a vice president with 5 Lakes Global, Ltd., a Toledo consulting group that is co-sponsoring the forum with the Regional Growth Partnership, said the medical group is very interesting in possibly having the vaccine manufactured in Ohio, and setting up for Chinese physicians a medical training program at the University of Toledo Medical Center, formerly the Medical College of Ohio, that would teach them aspects of western medicine.

“They are talking to local Chinese about the opportunities available in Toledo,” Ms. Zimmerman said. “They are very interested in organizing training programs here at UTMC.”

Todayis the big day for the forum with several speeches in a morning session, followed by lunch at Fifth Third Center at One SeaGate, then all-important discussion segments and break-out sessions. The discussions will focus on doing business in the United States, finance and tax issues, legal issues, education opportunities in northwest Ohio and China, real estate, transportation, and energy and utilities. On Wednesday, top officials from China will discuss business opportunities in their country that would be of interest to their American counterparts, and the attendees will be able to take one of four tours of the area that focus on differing aspects, such as education or manufacturing.

Chaz Madrid, business development manager for 5 Lakes Global, said some Chinese visitors arrived as early as last Thursday to acquaint themselves with the area and take in the visual and cultural aspects of Toledo.

Several of the visitors went to the riverfront to watch the Toledo Frogtown Races Regatta on Saturday and came away impressed, Mr. Madrid said. “They remarked about the young athletes and the support of the people at the regatta,” he said. “They said the city seemed very welcoming.”

Mr. Madrid said other visitors remarked how uncrowded Toledo seemed. “They said that was a nice change of scenery, and they also mentioned how lush and green Toledo seemed,” Mr. Madrid said.

“So I think so far they all have a very positive impression of Toledo. I haven’t heard any complaints yet,” he added.

Sean Zou, a 5 Lakes Global vice president who is the company’s liaison in China and a native of Beijing, said there was a lot of curiosity about Toledo and Ohio from the Chinese visitors as they were leaving this weekend for the United States. Mr. Zou arrived in Toledo on Saturday.

“They have never known Toledo. They know of Ohio but not Toledo,” he said.

Mr. Zou said that while many Chinese businessman have visited Hawaii, San Francisco, or New York, the Midwest remains a flyover mystery, and he received questions about the weather. “We told them the Toledo weather is a lot like Beijing,” he said.

Most of the forum attendees have seen 5 Lakes Global’s videos about northwest Ohio or attended one of the consulting group’s presentations about the Toledo area, so there is some slight familiarity with the region. “Now they want to look for themselves and see if it’s really as good as we said,” Mr. Zou said.

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