Mayor Mike Bell, wearing an American flag pin on his lapel, takes in a view of the city of Shenzhen, China, from atop the Empire Building as the mayor and other local officials began to form relationships with Chinese businessmen.
SHENZHEN, China — After a 30-minute soft pitch on Toledo, the general manager of a company that makes thin film solar modules seemed to be on the hook Friday — or at least looking at the hook.
Lisa Li of Shenzhen Topray Solar Co. Ltd. was one of more than a dozen business leaders operating out of the booming Shenzhen High-Tech Industrial Park who listened to Mayor Mike Bell’s invitation to Toledo.
“It all starts with relationships,” Mr. Bell said after the presentation. That is something Mr. Bell has said repeatedly since returning to China for the second time, hoping to attract investment to Toledo.
The pitch to the Chinese business leaders included a video highlighting Toledo’s main institutions, transportation assets, and housing.
The city of Toledo in fact officially joined the industrial park Friday with the opening of a Regional Growth Partnership satellite office in the complex.
“We now have an international footprint and we are open for business,” said Scott Prephan, a Perrysburg real estate broker and close associate of RGP Chief Executive Dean Monske, who both joined Mr. Bell in China this week, also for the second time.
The privately funded RGP joins agencies such as the Southwest England Regional Development Agency, the Colombian Chinese Chamber of Commerce, and the German Chamber of Commerce in China, which are all essentially vying for the same kind of foreign direct investment or business growth back home that the Toledo leaders want.
The lime-green, glass Empire Building was developed by Wu King Hung, who along with Yuan Xiaohong has purchased The Docks restaurant complex in East Toledo.
Having an office in the country is essential, Mr. Monske added.
“It is one thing to come over here once in a while, but it is another thing to have a physical presence,” Mr. Monske said. “I think it just makes the relationship-building easier and shows more credibility. If you are going to build a relationship, it takes more than just shaking a hand once a year.”
The delegation, which includes Jessica Xie, vice president of the Hylant Group; Kathy Carroll, president and chief executive of the Toledo Symphony, and Dean Niese, chief operating officer of the Mannik & Smith Group, arrived at the industrial park and was quickly seated in a spacious conference room to be welcomed by the complex’s director, Zhu Zhi Wei.
The meeting, which had an almost diplomatic flair to it, started with a six-minute presentation boosting the success of things like the industrial park’s production, industrial added value, export value, and tax revenue, all calculated out to several numbers after the decimal point. The industrial park, which is one of five state-level high-tech parks particularly supported by the Chinese central government, is home to high-tech companies, an incubator for new firms, and a venture capitalist consortium.
“If you look at the city of Shenzhen, we can characterize it as the city with miracles,” Mr. Zhu said. “The city started 30 years ago with some 30,000 people and today it is a city with over 14 million.”
Mayor Bell said he doesn’t expect anywhere near that kind of rapid growth back home, but he doesn’t believe Toledo’s fate is one of economic decline.
“Toledo is a city that is actually retooling itself, and formerly our main focus for years was the automotive industry. Now we are looking for other alternatives to be able to assimilate our economic growth and high-tech is one of our key points of the future,” Mr. Bell said to Mr. Zhu.
“For me, I am a mayor of not a whole lot of words, but I want to put things into action, so what I would like to be able to do is figure out how we do this so as to not waste time on your side or my side,” he said.
Mayor Mike Bell looks at the just-opened Regional Growth Partnership satellite office in the Shenzhen industrial park. Simon Guo’s firm, Kool Power, shares the space.
Mr. Guo, the intermediary for Mr. Bell and Mr. Monske to Chinese investors, will share the RGP’s office space at the Shenzhen High-Tech Industrial Park.
His company, Kool Power, deals with green energies and is a consortium of “low-carbon related technology organizations in the energy field,” according to its Web site.
Mr. Guo has been a key part of Mr. Bell getting face time with investors and Mr. Monske said he’ll continue working leads for Toledo.
“People have spent a lot of money to come out here, opened an office and hung a shingle, and then expected people to come knocking on their door,” Mr. Monske said. “But without that person on the ground here, like a Simon Guo, for us, it is very difficult.”
Since arriving in China, the delegation has traveled in a small bus, pushing its way through the congested roadways of the booming city next to Hong Kong and in China’s bustling Guangdong Province.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Guo led the group to a large and densely vegetated park in the heart of the city, where a statue of the deceased Chinese politician, statesman, theorist, military leader, and diplomat Deng Xiaoping overlooks a scenic view of Shenzhen’s panoramic skyline.
“You have to learn from that man, Deng Xiaoping,” said Yuan Xiaohong, one of the Chinese investors who purchased The Docks restaurant complex in East Toledo and who has been with the delegation since it arrived.
Toledo Mayor Mike Bell stands between his father, Norman Bell, and Wu King Hung, one of the investors who bought The Docks restaurant complex in East Toledo, in front of a statue of the late Chinese leader Deng Xiao-ping, known for revolutionizing China’s economy.
He was also a leader of the Communist Party of China and a reformer who led China toward a market economy, in part with the establishment of special economic zones that exist in Shenzhen.
Mr. Bell, undeterred by questions about China’s communist government, said he admired Mr. Deng’s legacy.
“The speed that they do things here, they don’t waste time,” Mr. Bell said. “If they are in the same mood we are, if they have to sit back and weigh every little issue out, they probably would have never moved forward. At some point in time they had a leader, or leaders, who believed in the economic development portion and started moving with it as opposed to sitting back and using words.”
The mayor posed for pictures with his delegation in front of the statue of Mr. Deng, who died in 1997.
“What I thought of Deng Xiaoping, he was an action leader and he said things fairly,” Mr. Bell said. “I am sure he met some criticism.”
Contact Ignazio Messina at: email@example.com or 419-724-6171.