Simon Guo, left, chairman of Five Lakes Global Group USA, translates for Gao Guohui, deputy secretary general of the China Hi-Tech Fair, who was addressing businessmen and politicians at SeaGate Convention Centre in downtown Toledo.
THE BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH
Efforts to create in Toledo a version of one of China’s biggest trade shows got off to a promising start Thursday with Toledo leaders escorting a delegation of Chinese officials around the Glass City, and both sides expressing admiration for each other during a late morning presentation and luncheon at the SeaGate Centre.
Speaking through a translator, Gao Guohui, deputy secretary-general of the Shenzhen, China, municipal government, and a member of organizing committee of the China Hi-Tech Fair, praised Toledo as a “city of unlimited water resources, unlimited power to manufacture, and unlimited human resources.”
Mr. Gao, who is considering Toledo — and no other North American city — as a place to stage a U.S. edition of China’s premier technology trade show sometime in 2014, said he took brief tours of the city after his arrival Wednesday night and again Thursday morning.
He said what he saw was a city with “tremendous room for growth and benefits between Toledo and Shenzhen. Also, there’s a lot of money to be made.”
Comparing the two cities, Mr. Gao said Shenzhen is a strong center for manufacturing of electronics, while Toledo appears strong in mechanical manufacturing but also in alternative energies, like solar panels.
“We’re going to construct a bridge across the Pacific between Toledo and Shenzhen,” Mr. Gao said. That bridge of cooperation will foster a stronger relationship, and eventually the two cities will become friends and eventually, close friends, he said.
“Once you have a close friendship, money arrives,” he added.
Mr. Gao’s translator was Toledo resident Simon Guo, head of 5 Lakes Global Group Ltd., a consulting group that operates out of the Park Inn. Mr. Guo repeatedly has brought Chinese investors to the region, and was among the team that first introduced Mayor Mike Bell to investors from China who ultimately purchased the Marina District and the Docks restaurant complex in East Toledo from the city.
Mr. Guo and Mayor Bell were part of the Toledo economic development delegation that went to China in November, starting with a visit to Shenzhen and the China Hi-Tech Fair.
Thursday’s visit was coordinated by the Regional Growth Partnership and 5 Lakes Global Group.
In Toledo, Mr. Guo served as the local guide for the Shenzhen delegation, which was scheduled to visit the Toledo Museum of Art, Owens Corning, and the University of Toledo.
During the presentation, Mr. Guo said that Mr. Gao, the Shenzhen deputy secretary-general, had expressed strong appreciation for Toledo's history and for the community’s efforts to preserve and utilize its historical buildings.
Shenzhen is one of China’s fastest-growing cities, with a burgeoning skyline and a population of just over 10 million. But it remains a relatively young city. In 1980, its population was barely 333,000.
In 1979, Shenzhen’s combined gross domestic product totaled just $33 million. As of 2012, the city’s GDP was $205 billion and its per capita income was nearly $20,000 annually, making Shenzhen one of the wealthiest cities in China.
Shenzhen’s Hi-Tech Fair will celebrate its 15th year when it starts Nov. 16. Last year, the event drew 2,976 exhibitors, 3,132 investors from 67 countries, and 538,000 visitors. But the fair’s organizers have branched out over the years to hold satellite editions of the Hi-Tech fair in Israel, Belgium, and Hungary.
Organizers now want to hold a North American edition in Toledo, and Thursday’s visit was designed to scout Toledo as a suitable location and work out logistics. The delegation visited the SeaGate Centre and the Huntington Center, which would be used as sites.
Paul Zito, the RGP’s vice president of international development, was part of last year’s Toledo delegation to Shenzhen, and at Thursday’s event he said a U.S. edition of the fair would greatly benefit the region’s suppliers, high-tech customers, and service providers.
“It truly is an honor to have the China Hi-Tech Fair want to hold the first U.S. edition in Toledo,” he said.
Staging an event here would bring international attention to Toledo that could lead to additional businesses, joint ventures, and eventually more jobs.
The Chinese delegation began its trip in Brazil, to scout South American sites for a fair, then went to Colombia, and finally Toledo.
Mr. Gao and 13 other representatives of the China Hi-Tech Fair met with Mayor Bell earlier in his 22nd floor Government Center office.
The group admired the view from the mayor's office, where Deputy Mayor Paul Syring asked translators to tell them about the weather.
“Tell them that’s not smog,” he said, pointing toward the Maumee River and south. “That's just fog because of the weather, and it will be gone within an hour or two.”
Mr. Gao said, “We are making this trip on behalf of Shenzhen business delegation, really under the invitation of Mayor Bell when you paid a visit to our city last year. We would like to pay special tributes to this friendship relationship between the city of Shenzhen and Toledo.”
Mr. Gao said he noticed an “overall harmony” in Toledo.
“It seems to me, for any city, in order to enhance the growth of the city, you have to have adequate industrial infrastructure so you can develop in a perpetual way,” he said. “President Obama is trying to regain or re-establish the U.S. manufacturing capabilities. ... I believe the city of Toledo has tremendous opportunities to grow because of its industrial past and its ability to regain its manufacturing.”
Mayor Bell made his fourth trade mission to China last year. He accompanied about 20 Toledo-area businessmen to the country. He said Thursday’s visit is more proof his efforts overseas are working.
“Now we have people coming here on their own. They are investing as much money if not more than we are, to get here, to try to create the relationships,” Mr. Bell said. “The group came only here because we have a relationship. It’s all about relationships. They have come here and they know this is a good place; they have friends here, [and] they have people willing to work with them.”
Contact Jon Chavez at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6128.