Toledo opens office in 2nd Chinese city

Delegation works to cement ties

5/24/2011
BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Toledo Mayor Mike Bell receives a gift from Zhu Naizhen, vice mayor of Mudanjiang, during an hours-long meeting to discuss business opportunities. The two promised to visit each other’s cities this year.
Toledo Mayor Mike Bell receives a gift from Zhu Naizhen, vice mayor of Mudanjiang, during an hours-long meeting to discuss business opportunities. The two promised to visit each other’s cities this year.

BEIJING —The city of Toledo took the first steps toward exploring a relationship with the city of Mudanjiang Monday and also planted another flag in China with a new office opening — this one in the capital of Beijing.

With tabletop American and Chinese flags between them, and flanked by their respective delegations, Toledo Mayor Mike Bell and Mudanjiang Vice Mayor Zhu Naizhen sat across from each other and made promises to visit each other’s cities this year.

The two sides met for hours, during which they expounded on the beauties of their cities.

Mudanjiang, a coastal city with a vast forest area and a mountain region near China’s border with Russia, is a popular place for tourists and has 2.7 million people — much larger than Toledo but small by Chinese standards.

“Most people would wonder why we would be sitting across from a city much larger than us, trying to establish a partnership,” Mr. Bell told Mr. Zhu. “Well, we in the city of Toledo believe big things come in small packages.”

A web of relationships and events ultimately brought the two delegations together Monday in a hotel conference room in Beijing on Day 5 of Mr. Bell’s trade mission to China.

Also, the Regional Growth Partnership opened its second Chinese office in space donated by Li ZhenGou, the chairman of YouBo Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd.

Mr. Li, who visited Toledo just three weeks ago, is pursuing a pharmaceutical research and development deal with the University of Toledo Medical Center, the former Medical College of Ohio.

And because he is from Mudanjiang, Mr. Li arranged the forum between the two sides.

The first RGP office was opened last week during the Toledo group’s trip in Shenzhen.

“The reason we are here in China, in Beijing, is to be able to market our city as a point of location for business, as well as establish relationships in China to be able to grow our economic development machines,” Mr. Bell said. “Our city is open and it all starts with sitting in this room and staring eye-to-eye as government officials and starting to get things done.”

Mr. Zhu opened the meeting with a 40-minute speech about Mudanjiang, detailing things such as its gross domestic product, timber industry, farmers’ income, snow sports, and growing of “green organic foods,” including edible fungus.

OBJECT“You will find that Mudanjiang is a city with beautiful scenery,” the vice mayor from China said.

“Mr. Li has already blazed a new trail and opened up a door for the city of Toledo. ... If that deals happens, we will have something to celebrate, right?” Mr. Zhu added.

Roger Jorgenson, vice president of manufacturing and construction for SynTerra Energy in Maumee, joined the mayor’s delegation Sunday night and came to China to discuss new business ventures.

He said a relationship with Mudanjiang “seems full of potential.”

The meeting started formally, as many business meetings in China do, but soon turned casual and eventually came to a challenge from Mr. Bell.

“I have one challenge that together with you and his designee that we find one thing to work on together to bring us closer together,” Mr. Bell said. “It doesn’t have to be complicated, but just one thing to bring us closer together. ... It could be as simple as him coming to my city and me going to his city.”

Mr. Zhu quickly accepted, promising to be in Toledo this summer and Mr. Bell, in turn, said he would return to China in September, when he may be in Asia for a trip to Japan.

Mr. Zhu also invited the Toledo Symphony to come perform in his city.

Mr. Bell has prominently included the Toledo Symphony as part of his delegation. Kathy Carroll, the Toledo Symphony’s president and chief executive, and Amy Chang, associate principal cellist, have been among the dozen or so people traveling with the mayor.

Some members of the delegation have broken off from the group for separate meetings, while three others arrived Sunday night.

They were Mr. Jorgenson, Joseph Shapiro, associate dean for business development at the University of Toledo, and Scott Libbe, executive vice president of Rudolph/Libbe Inc.

“We have an unbelievable symphony, we have an unbelievable zoo, we have an unbelievable art museum, we have a tremendous amount of space, and great real estate,” the mayor said.

The symphony is trying to secure performance dates at the Shenzhen Concert Hall and at the Beijing Conservatory. The mayor, Ms. Carroll, and Ms. Chang visited the prestigious music school earlier yesterday morning. Zhao Talimu, the conservatory’s president, said he was open to the Toledo Symphony performing at the institution.

Before Mr. Bell took his turn to talk about Toledo, he showed the video prepared for the investor meetings that have been ongoing since he arrived in Shenzhen on the first day of his trip — detailing aspects of the city such as West Toledo homes, which invoked a nod and smile from the Chinese vice mayor.

After the meeting, Mr. Bell exchanged gifts with Mr. Zhu. The mayor received a carving that can be placed in ink to stamp his name. In return, Mr. Bell gave Mr. Zhu blown-glass flowers made by a local Toledo artist and purchased at the Toledo Museum of Art.

With the exception of Mr. Zhu’s remarks, which were translated by a member of his own group, the entire exchange between the Toledo delegation and the group from Mudanjiang was translated by Simon Guo, a business intermediary who was named Monday as “RGP China” by Dean Monske, the agency’s chief executive.

Mr. Guo yesterday played down his expanding role as the link between Toledo officials and businesses, calling himself “only a translator.”

“Call me a translator. I am happy with that,” he said.

Mr. Guo also said he is considering buying a home in Toledo.

Mr. Monske said the title gives Mr. Guo authority to represent the RGP and the city of Toledo in China. Both Mr. Guo and Scott Prephan — a real estate broker who initially introduced the mayor and Mr. Monske to Mr. Guo — have city of Toledo business cards, but neither man is on the city payroll. Mr. Monske said Mr. Guo is not being paid for his role at RGP China.

The mayor’s morning also included a meeting set up by Gov. John Kasich with a Chinese investor, whom Mr. Bell said he could not name.

Before leaving the hotel early in the morning, Mr. Bell happened to meet a delegation of Kenyan Parliament members, including John Olago-Aluoch, a cousin of President Obama.

The mayor and the delegation are expected today to visit Qinhuangdao, a Toledo sister city.

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