Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018
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Toledo delegation squeezes Chinese culture into trip


Toledo Mayor Mike Bell, left, and his father, Norman, stand on of the Great Wall of China.

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BEIJING — The Toledo delegation on a trade mission to China jetted into the capital city Sunday and immediately switched gears from seeking international investment to soaking up the culture.

The first stop in this city of 19 million for Mayor Mike Bell, his parents, and the majority of the 12-person group was the historic Great Wall of China.

“We purposely built in some down time because the last time we came to China, last year, it got to be pretty intense and non-stop,” Mr. Bell said during the hour-long ride from Beijing International Airport to a section of the Great Wall.

“It comes to a point when you are doing so much that you start to mess up and does that really do any good?” he said. “Plus, this time, it is different because people are flying in to see us from other cities in China since this is a mid-point.”

The day started with a 3 1/2 hour flight from Shenzhen to Beijing, where the group was met by a smiling young woman who introduced herself as Nancy and later said her name was Hu Xi. Although no one initially seemed to know who hired Ms. Hu’s tour guide company to shuttle the group to the Great Wall, everyone was happy to board a charter bus and make the trip to one of China’s most famous structures. Perrysburg real estate broker Scott Prephan later said she was hired by Simon Guo, the Chinese intermediary and translator who has made many of the mayor’s meetings in China possible.

PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to see more pictures from the Great Wall of China.

The group pulled into parking lot and made the long trek uphill to cable cars that take you to the wall. While delegation members like Mr. Prephan, Dean Monske, leader of the Regional Growth Partnership, and Toledo Public Information Officer Jen Sorgenfrei walked briskly past dozens of vendors aggressively trying to sell trinkets and souvenirs, Mr. Bell stayed behind, helping his mother and father, Norman and Ora Bell, make the walk.

“It’s just incredible,” said Dean Niese, chief operating officer of the Mannik & Smith Group.

“This afternoon has been a nice break from all the business meetings, the formal dinners, and really seeing the China we all envision,” he said. “So it is amazing to get out of the congested, intense city we saw in Shenzhen and now we are seeing Beijing now and able to see a different part of China. It keeps us fresh and allows us to have a little time away from the business activities.”

Mr. Bell and his parents made it to the wall with barely 20 minutes to spend walking on its surface before the group needed to head back down and rush back for a dinner with investors from the Chinese city of Xian. The mayor had met the Xian investors three times earlier — including during a trip to New York’s Carnegie Hall during a performance of the Toledo Symphony.

Mr. Prephan and Mr. Guo met the group from Xian during a trip in China three months ago, when Mr. Prephan gave the same presentation about Toledo that Mayor Bell gave last week and will give again in coming days to other Chinese businessmen. The Xian investors then in turn visited Toledo and New York for the concert  — which Mr. Bell again said underscores the cultural importance of Toledo having cultural amenities like the arts.

While on the wall, Mr. Bell posed for pictures with Craig Janusek, of Pittsburgh, his wife, and coworkers.

“We have offices here, we have offices in Japan,” said Mr. Janusek, who works for a software company called EFI. “It is the way of the future. I think there is a lot of improvement of the way things used to be here in China.”

Mr. Janusek said it’s a good idea for Toledo to do business in China and in turn to attract Chinese investors to Toledo.

Mr. Bell used the one-hour bus ride from the Great Wall to Beijing’s Yuyang Hotel to get some sleep. At the hotel, the group was told by an employee of Mr. Guo they would have just 13 minutes to check in and get dressed for a formal dinner with the investors.

Meeting investors for dinners, and even toasting and drinking, is an important part of the business culture in China, Mr. Monske pointed out.

Also among the Toledo delegation are Jessica Xie, vice president of the Hylant Group; Kathy Carroll, president and chief executive of the Toledo Symphony; Amy Chang, a cellist with the symphony; Mark Schroeder, associate director of external affairs for the University of Toledo, and Jim Lindsay, president of Louisville Title Agency.

Mr. Lindsay and Ms. Xie did not go to the Great Wall. Ms. Xie visited family in Beijing. Mr. Schroeder, who has been meeting with officials from different Chinese universities, did not fly with the group to Beijing.

The group was also met at the hotel by Yuan Xiaohong, one of the Shenzhen investors from Dashing Pacific Group Ltd., which purchased The Docks on the waterfront in East Toledo and is still considering buying the Marina District.

Beijing is 12 hours ahead of Toledo. Monday morning, the delegation will visit Tiananmen Square and briefly see the famed Forbidden City before jumping back into the mix of marathon meetings with investors Mr. Bell is trying to lure to northwest Ohio.

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

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