Mayor Bell's sales pitch in China adds key player

Mayor Mike Bell tells a room of Chinese investors about the merits of Toledo as Simon Guo translates. The screen behind the two men reads: 'City of Toledo Investment Demonstration.'
Mayor Mike Bell tells a room of Chinese investors about the merits of Toledo as Simon Guo translates. The screen behind the two men reads: 'City of Toledo Investment Demonstration.'

HANGZHOU, China -- The Bell trade mission team was back together Wednesday for a pitch to wealthy entrepreneurs in this city known to the Chinese as heaven on Earth, and Chinese business intermediary Simon Guo was back in charge directing the group with the speed and confidence of a god.

After a day without him, the bulk of the team that came to China together reunited here and was grateful to have Mr. Guo, the recently named Regional Growth Partnership China president, back as their guide, chauffeur, press secretary, and interpreter.

While Mayor Mike Bell had spent a day in Toledo's sister city Qinhuangdao mostly for cultural exchange, Mr. Guo and Perrysburg real estate broker Scott Prephan -- the pair responsible for leading the mayor to China in the first place last year -- stayed in Beijing for meetings with potential private investors.

PHOTO GALLERY: Toledo's China Connection

As the mayor, his spokesman Jen Sorgenfrei, and RGP President Dean Monske pulled up to the Beijing airport for a flight to Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province, they found Mr. Guo, his employee Eleven Zhu, and even Yuan Xiaohong, one of the Shenzhen, China, investors who purchased The Docks in East Toledo through the company Dashing Pacific Group Ltd.

"She likes to hang with us," Mr. Monske said about Ms. Yuan while walking through the capital city's enormous airport.

The delegation now in Hangzhou also includes Toledo Symphony President Kathy Carroll, cellist Amy Chang, Hylant Group Vice President Jessica Xie, and Joseph Shapiro, associate dean for business development at the University of Toledo.

"We are facing the rising cost of labor, rising cost of raw materials that really makes the economy in this region, in this province, very vulnerable, very fragile," Mr. Guo said on the bus ride from Hangzhou's airport to the group's hotel.

"So this is one of those things I am trying to teach [to Chinese businessmen] in this area. ... Maybe, 'hey, you set up a company in Toledo and you become a U.S. business and do business with the Chinese,' " he said.

They arrived at a posh hotel -- something that could sit on Madison Avenue in New York -- in this ancient but trendy and affluent city. The group had little time to get ready for a presentation on Toledo set up for businessmen. Mr. Guo gave everyone just 45 minutes to prepare for a meeting nearby, where they would find a huge banner written in Chinese characters that translated to "Welcome Toledo delegation."

The host of the meeting was apparently a man named Yuan Jinkang, a person Mr. Guo described as "low-profile" and an extremely wealthy manufacturing businessman who owns his own personal museum and is known to serve 680-year-old Chinese alcohol at dinner parties. Mr. Bell took a microphone before Mr. Yuan and the group of about 30 people and made the same pitch he has had already delivered in Shenzhen, Beijing, and Qinhuangdao.

"You need to be able to see people eye-to-eye," Mr. Bell said before going into Toledo's quality of life and assets.

"This is my attempt for you to be able to see me eye-to-eye," the mayor said on a roll. "One of the people who took a chance on Toledo, and came to see Toledo, was Ms. Yuan. She became a friend."

Mr. Guo was up next to convince the businessmen that Toledo was worth a look, but he did so in Chinese without translating for the Toledoans sitting before him.

Ms. Yuan eventually came to the front and in Chinese declared that, in her opinion, her investment in Toledo would yield a profit.

"The first time I came to Toledo, I was impressed by the beauty," she said. "I feel this could be the city for us to do business in the United States."

Ms. Yuan also talked about one of Toledo's crown features -- the water -- as being full of fish that people oddly seem to catch and then throw back. That would never happen in China, she said.

Mr. Bell, before going to a private dinner with Mr. Yuan, Ms. Yuan, and several others, said the meeting was a good first step toward the crucial relationship-building that is needed in Chinese culture before deals are struck.

"It's important to have someone of Asian descent who has been to Toledo and can really tell them what it is like," Mr. Bell said.

Others in the group have repeatedly said the mission would be almost impossible without Mr. Guo as their tireless liaison.

Even though he calls himself "only a translator because without translation, we have nothing," Mr. Guo himself is involved in several business and seemingly has employees scattered throughout China.

Mr. Guo was former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's interpreter during a 1987 trip to China and was an interpreter for former British Prime Minister Edward Heath and David Rockefeller of Chase Manhattan Bank during their many visits to China. One of his roles includes teaching Chinese businessmen how to do business in America, but he recently started a Web site,, which shares space with the RGP in its Shenzhen office.

After spending one night in Hangzhou, the Toledo delegation was supposed to make a nearly four-hour drive to Nantong in the Jiangsu Province.

Mr. Guo canceled the trip.

"They are unsure about it," he said about potential investors Mr. Bell was to have met there. "So I say we don't go."

Contact Ignazio Messina at:
or 419-724-6171.