"Now, regarding talent and technology, I’d put (China) up against anybody, and therefore now foreign expertise is not as valuable to them as it once was,” he said.
As China's middle class moves into cities, environmental elements are becoming more important to developers, Mr. Portman said.
In a Portman-designed residential development targeted at aging retirees with accommodations ranging from active residences to full medical-assistance options the developer asked for locally sourced stone, enhanced natural ventilation, rooftop gardens and an orientation that maximizes natural light and solar heat in the winter months.
"As more people look for these features when making purchasing decisions, more developers will be motivated to get on board," Jack said.
The complex is just one of a dozen landmark projects John Portman & Associates is working on in Shanghai and Beijing, as well as in second- and third-tier cities.
On the development side, though, Mr. Portman said it has gotten harder for U.S. firms to compete with Chinese companies that get preferential treatment in land deals and financing from state-owned banks.
For Portman Holdings, which has both investment and development operations, Jack sees better opportunities elsewhere in Asia.
India, for example, is showing promise. There, Portman is involved in the development of more than 4,000 housing units being built by the construction arm of the Tata conglomerate and other developers.
More so now than in previous years, Jack sees opportunities growing at home in Atlanta and throughout the U.S.
Portman Holdings recently announced that it would acquire and retrofit 230 Peachtree Street, a tower first built by the company 50 years ago as part of Peachtree Center. The renovated development will include a 203-room Hotel Indigo and nearly 300,000 square feet of office space.
As for next moves overseas, Jack personally has little interest in the frontier markets of Africa or the emerging economies of Russia and Brazil. He sees Portman remaining in Southeast Asia, building in India, and continuing the quest he began in China.
After all, the avid reader and painter is most at home in places where there are ample opportunities to cross creative and cultural barriers.
"The different relationships you can have in different places give you a composite of what life’s all about,” he said. "I don’t care who it is or what they do - you can always learn from people."