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Published: Saturday, 9/11/2010

Toledo Mayor Bell leads delegation to China to attract jobs

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Mayor Mike Bell took off Friday for an 11-day trip to China with the hope of attracting investors to Toledo and jobs for the region.

The mayor, along with a delegation that includes Deputy Mayor for External Affairs Dean Monske and four Toledo-area businessmen, will visit six cities to meet with chief executive officers.

"We are going to get the opportunity to meet a number of CEOs of Chinese firms, and the mayor will be able to foster economic development opportunities," said Steve Herwat, Toledo's deputy mayor for operations. "We have been meeting with local firms that have business dealings in China, and we view this as an investment … and if we build relationships there, we can attract Chinese investors to our city."

The delegation lands in Hong Kong and will visit Shenzhen, Shanghai, Ordos, Yulin, and Beijing before flying back on Sept. 20.

Also in the group is Scott Prephan, owner of Prephan Enterprises; Michael Farrar, owner of ACT Ltd. and ACT Asian Operations; Sheri Bokros, business development marketing manager for Mannik & Smith Group Inc., and Alex Johnson, chief executive officer of Ohio Holdings subsidiary Midwest Terminals.

Simon Guo, president of Simon Business Connection, who has Toledo connections, joins the delegation in China, said Mr. Bell's spokesman Jen Sorgenfrei.

The 2010 Sustainability Conference, hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, will be one stop on the itinerary, as will the 2010 World Expo, also being held in Shanghai.

Mr. Bell was en route to China Friday when his office announced the trip.

"Toledo has many assets that make us globally competitive," Mayor Bell said in a written statement. "It's time that we begin positively marketing this region and our workforce if we are to attract business back to the Midwest."

Much of the trip was organized by Mr. Prephan, whose experience, according to his Web site, "includes single-family, multifamily, and commercial real estate." He is also on the board of the Strategic Education & Economic Development Corp. Its purpose is to facilitate stronger trade relations between northwest Ohio and countries, primarily China.

Mr. Herwat said that the mayor met Mr. Prephan during his campaign last year and pledged to increase the city's outreach to China.

The trip includes a meeting with executives from BYD Co., the Chinese auto maker backed by billionaire Warren Buffett. The company and Daimler AG set up a venture to develop electric cars in the world's largest auto market. Daimler, the world's second-biggest manufacturer of luxury cars, and BYD will invest $88 million in the 50-50 partnership in China, the German carmaker said in May.

Mr. Prephan also briefed Mayor Bell on Chinese customs, how to greet people, and even the appropriate way to accept a business card, which is to use both hands and then read it.

Paul Toth, president of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, said the agency developed part of the presentation Mr. Bell would make to Chinese investors.

"We provided information on sites we have available and information about our transportation assets and some of the port authority's innovative financing options," Mr. Toth said. "We have 111 acres at the Jeep site, 182 acres we bought at Ironville [Dock in East Toledo], and 250 acres on the south side of the Toledo Express Airport for warehousing and distribution."

The port board last month agreed to buy the former Jeep plant land for $95,000 from a company that Chrysler Corp. set up to dispose of surplus property.

"Typically, economic development has been more of a reactive exercise than proactive," Mr. Toth said. "Over the past 12 to 18 months, we have seen all our agencies working together and trying to be more proactive."

Ms. Sorgenfrei said the city paid for the airfare for Mr. Bell and Mr. Monske. The round-trip fare for both men for only the Detroit-Hong Kong trip cost $2,222. There will be additional travel expenses for flights within China.

The city also paid $1,000 for Mr. Bell and Mr. Monske to attend the Sustainability Conference.

The cost for hotels and a translator will be paid for by the businesses of the other delegation members, Ms. Sorgenfrei said.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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