The convergence of two Chinese delegations at Atlantic Station last Wednesday wasn’t planned, but it resulted in a flurry of business meetings that caused some local economic developers to pull double duty.
On the ground level of 201 17th St., Chinamex hosted its first delegation since the Beijing-based advisory firm opened the doors to its showroom facility in December.
More than 100 people, including Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, attended the event. By mid-afternoon, volunteer translators were busy helping Georgia businesspeople chat with more than 30 delegates representing the Hubei government and eight companies from the province whose wares are on display in the showroom.
In a separate event 18 floors up, Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP hosted a luncheon and business meetings for a group from Shandong, a coastal province with some 93 million people where Georgia has sent multiple delegations. Shandong and Georgia are part of a worldwide alliance of states that meets every two years to discuss development issues at the state level.
Rushing to both events was a good problem to have, said Jorge Fernandez, vice president of global commerce for the Metro Atlanta Chamber. After some big announcements a few years ago, momentum for Chinese investment in Georgia has slowed.
Still, Georgia ranks third among U.S. states in the number of “greenfield” Chinese investments, those that involve completely new operations, said Mr. Fernandez, who recently attended a foreign direct investment conference in California. Any Chinese activity, whether a large company or small delegation, helps create a critical mass that builds Georgia’s image as a Chinese investment hub.
“The more they come, the better off we are,” he told GlobalAtlanta.
At the Shandong event, Liu Xiaojiang, the deputy director general of the province’s commerce department, anticipated that he would return to Georgia soon.
Mr. Liu and Mark Lytle, director of international investment for the state of Georgia, signed a memorandum of understanding pledging to boost trade and help each other make economic inroads into their respective countries.
Mr. Liu said the Chinese government is encouraging overseas investments as a way to diversify its economy. His delegation came to Atlanta after visiting Mexico and Brazil.
“At present the global economy is still unsteady, so the government is looking for long-term and sustainable economic development,” he said, noting that although Shandong’s gross domestic product grew 11.4 percent last year, it still needs better ties with the U.S.
If the subsequent business meetings were any indication, many local firms are ready to oblige.
Executives from Purafil Inc., which makes air filtration systems, met with a Shandong steel company and also hoped to have some face time with Shandong government officials.
Used mostly to prevent corrosion of machinery in industrial plants and refineries, Purafil’s systems circulate air through a medium filled with chemical pellets that scrub the air clean of harmful, corrosive or foul-smelling gases. The company is seeing increased demand in China, where it will soon hire two new sales managers and a technician.
“As the sales volume grows, we are looking at the possibility of opening a manufacturing site to build our mechanical equipment (in China),” Andrew Weiller, director of Purafil’s Asia unit, told GlobalAtlanta at the event. “We are very interested to be here, because Shandong is a good place to do that.”
Purafil’s systems clean the air at the Beijing International Airport‘s newest terminal and help preserve artifacts at many major Chinese museums, including the Shanghai Museum.
Veronica Caracciolo, who manages international accounts for industrial cleaning and maintenance supply provider Americo Manufacturing Co. Inc., said she made some promising connections at the event.
Americo, based in the Atlanta suburb of Acworth, exports to 60 countries, but currently it’s too expensive for the company to sell finished products in China. The company needs a Chinese partner who could import rolls of the cleaning pad material and then cut, package and sell them in the domestic market, Ms. Caracciolo told GlobalAtlanta.
Bill Poole, partner in charge of the international practice at Nelson Mullins and a key organizer of the Shandong event, said it was encouraging to see potential deals in the making.
Mr. Poole has worked in China since 1987, mostly helping U.S. companies enter that market.
“It is refreshing and very, very pleasing that before what was just Americans going to China, now it’s Chinese coming here,” he told a group of Chinese business leaders through a translator.
Olivia Wu, Chinamex USA’s new CEO, thinks her company can help make that process easier. Hosting the Hubei trade delegation is a good first step, but the company is still refining its business model in the U.S.
“This is a learning process for everybody. There is no model to be copied,” she told GlobalAtlanta in an interview.
Unlike Chinamex facilities in Amsterdam and Dubai, where merchandise is the focus, Chinamex USA is more about making introductions and offering services, although what exactly those will be is still being discussed.
“The ideal thing to do is to provide more specialized services,” she said. “We’ll see how this will go down the road.”
Ms. Wu concedes that Chinamex is not purely an incubator, though many have given it that title. While incubators usually house firms that have already plunged into a certain market, Chinamex’s companies are still testing the waters.
But despite items including jet skis, solar panels and industrial saws on display, Chinamex isn’t just a showroom either. Now with a staff of four, Chinamex fields e-mails and phone calls each week from U.S. companies looking to find business partners in China, and vice versa.
Ms. Wu envisions Chinamex helping novice Chinese investors – many of whom have never worked overseas – gain necessary skills and build product demand before taking on the risk of a U.S. investment.
“It won’t make sense for them to invest here until they have a good market,” she said.
Chinamex is currently operating the showroom, known as Hubei Enterprises (America) Center, through a deal with the province. The company might win a contract with another province by the end of this year, Ms. Wu said.