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Mayor: Trip to China a win for city

Results show mission worth cost, officials say

  • Mike-Bell-Zhu-Haowen-Qinhuangdao-Toledo

    Mayor Mike Bell meets Zhu Haowen, mayor of Qinhuangdao, one of Toledo’s sister cities. The meeting was to build a relationship, key to doing business in China.

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  • Mike-Bell-Wu-King-Hung-Empire-Building-Shenzhen-China

    Mayor Mike Bell and Wu King Hung shake hands atop the Empire Building in Shenzhen, Mr. Bell’s first stop. Mr. Wu had a key role in developing the 69-story glass building that soars above the city.

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  • Yuan-Jinkang-Shaoxing-Huitong-Battery-Co-Hangzhou-Mike-Bell

    Yuan Jinkang, owner of Shaoxing Huitong Battery Co., Ltd. in Hangzhou, heard Mayor Mike Bell’s pitch and then gave Mr. Bell and others a tour of his museum.

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Mike-Bell-Zhu-Haowen-Qinhuangdao-Toledo

Mayor Mike Bell meets Zhu Haowen, mayor of Qinhuangdao, one of Toledo’s sister cities. The meeting was to build a relationship, key to doing business in China.

THE BLADE/IGNAZIO MESSINA
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American mayors are running all over China, and have done so for years, but Toledo’s Mike Bell confidently said his recent nine-day trade mission to the Far East was another huge success that soon will yield another big deal for the city — this one in the private sector.

At the same time, Mr. Bell acknowledged that “a minority of people” are uneasy with the growing trend of Chinese investment in Toledo and the United States.

“Some of them are stuck back in 1950 and they can’t let go, and I understand that,” he said. “For some people, their anger and their negativity will not leave until they die, and I understand that, but my concept of being able to develop this relationship is about the future of our city, and future populations that will want us to be internationally diverse in our economic initiatives.”

The mayor, along with a team of businessmen and two Toledo Symphony representatives, each said the primary objective in China last month was to build relationships with Chinese investors — something that is crucial within that culture before making a deal.

“I think the trip was excellent,” Mr. Bell said Friday morning, eight days after returning from China. “We made some great relationships in addition to closing a deal that will bring prosperity to East Toledo and the whole city.”

While in the city of Hangzhou, on the last day of the trip that concluded May 26, Mr. Bell announced that the two investors making up Dashing Pacific Group Ltd. had reinstated their $3.8 million offer to buy 69 acres at the east-side Marina District. Within days of Mr. Bell’s return to the United States, Toledo City Council unanimously approved the sale — clearing the way for a planned $200 million development. Moreover, the mayor and his delegation, which included 12 people for the majority of the trip, met multiple times with roomfuls of investors in the Chinese cities of Shenzhen, Beijing, Qinhuangdao, and Hangzhou.

“One of the top things was making a relationship with [Zhu Haowen] the mayor of Qinhuangdao,” Mr. Bell said. “The concept of two mayors working together from two different parts of the world, trying to figure out how to do something economically that will benefit both cities, could pay off in the future.”

Costs of the mission

The trip largely was organized by the Regional Growth Partnership and Perrysburg real estate broker Scott Prephan. The cost of the mayor’s expenses getting to and staying in China were paid for by a communal fund of contributions from participating businessmen. Mr. Bell paid for his parents to fly to China and covered their other expenses. The expenses of Kathy Carroll, the Toledo Symphony’s president and chief executive, and Amy Chang, associate principal cellist, were covered by Chinese investors. The city paid about $3,500 for Jen Sorgenfrei, Mr. Bell’s spokesman, to make the trip. The hotel for Ms. Sorgenfrei, the mayor, and RGP Chief Executive Dean Monske in Qinhuangdao, which is Toledo’s sister city, were paid for by the Qinhuangdao government.

‘It was worth it’

Yuan-Jinkang-Shaoxing-Huitong-Battery-Co-Hangzhou-Mike-Bell

Yuan Jinkang, owner of Shaoxing Huitong Battery Co., Ltd. in Hangzhou, heard Mayor Mike Bell’s pitch and then gave Mr. Bell and others a tour of his museum.

THE BLADE/IGNAZIO MESSINA
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Toledo Councilman Tom Waniewski, admittedly one of the most conservative members of the 12-person body, said it was well worth the investment.

“I am generally optimistic and just that the mayor got [the Marina District] deal back on the table is an example of success,” Mr. Waniewski said. “The cost of going there and the cost of what came back, there is no question that it was worth it.”

Delegation member Dean Niese, chief operating officer of the Mannik & Smith Group, said the trip exceeded expectations.

“The value to the city, as I reflect back on it, we accomplished as a group more than I expected,” Mr. Niese said. “The value to the city can be measured in things that we are going to see in the short term and in the long term. There were a lot of good relationships established and new relationships that we will have the ability to continue.”

Dashing Pacific investors Wu Kin Hung and Yuan Xiaohong, who also bought The Docks in East Toledo, plan to be in Toledo next month and will co-sponsor the city’s Independence Day fireworks.

In Hangzhou — the last city the mayor visited — Mr. Bell and much of the delegation had dinner and spent the next day with Yuan Jinkang, owner of Shaoxing Huitong Battery Co., Ltd. Mr. Yuan was among a group of Hangzhou investors who listened to the mayor’s pitch about Toledo and then invited the group to see his extensive private museum filled with Chinese art.

Nothing unusual

Mr. Bell said his efforts to attract international investment are in no way unique. For years, Chinese businesses tried to attract U.S. investors, but recently it has been struggling American cities and businesses looking for deep-pocketed Chinese investors eager to find deals within the sluggish economy.

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl went to China last year about the same time Mr. Bell made his first trip there to meet with investors and officials. Mr. Ravenstahl’s delegation spent a day in Shanghai pitching Pittsburgh in two languages to Chinese print journalists primarily representing Shanghai’s business media.

Mike-Bell-Wu-King-Hung-Empire-Building-Shenzhen-China

Mayor Mike Bell and Wu King Hung shake hands atop the Empire Building in Shenzhen, Mr. Bell’s first stop. Mr. Wu had a key role in developing the 69-story glass building that soars above the city.

THE BLADE/IGNAZIO MESSINA
Enlarge | Buy This Image

After the trip, Mr. Ravenstahl said he had extended invitations for investors to visit Pittsburgh.

Mr. Bell took the same approach in each of his stops in China — talking up Toledo’s bright spots with the help of Chinese translator Zhixin “Simon” Guo, as well as personal invitations to visit Toledo.

More visitors?

Jim Lindsay, president of Louisville Title Agency and a member of the delegation to China, said those invitations likely would be accepted and Toledo could have more visitors from China.

“As a businessman, I came away from China with a certain level of confidence that our future economic growth is in good hands with Mayor Bell,” Mr. Lindsay said.

Hylant Group Vice President Jessica Xie, who also was on the trip, said the trade mission yielded some business leads.

“In Hangzhou, I was fortunate to sit with a group of business owners and some have said they went through a lot of those marketing presentations from the U.S., and they thought the mayor’s presentation was really sincere,” Ms. Xie said. “For the Hylant Group, we got some business leads from this trip and because I am bilingual. Whenever Chinese investors come to town, I can connect with them as well.”

She said the Chinese investment in the United States likely would continue.

“The Chinese government has been giving business incentives to invest overseas,” Ms. Xie said. “For real estate investors, in certain large cities there are not many opportunities to invest in land, and Toledo became very attractive because we have vacant land and the price is low right now. As long as the Chinese economy continues to be strong, and the Chinese government doesn’t change the policy, the investors will continue to come.”

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

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