Rendering of the Linyi exhibition center. 

An Atlanta-based trade show producer has launched a partnership in China that its leaders believe will open doors for American exporters. 

Exposition Development Company Inc., or ExpoDevCo, is working with Business One Global Trade Center, which is developing up to 7 million square feet of exposition space in Linyi, China, to provide “storefronts” for products from all over the world. 

But B1GTC is more than a landlord renting out floor space, said David Audrain, president and CEO of ExpoDevCo.

“It’s all about sales and introducing manufacturers to the distribution channel,” Mr. Audrain told Global Atlanta

An industry veteran who organized major shows while working for MesseFrankfurt across the U.S. and around the world, Mr. Audrain saw many trade-show participants in China leave frustrated because they didn’t know how to take the next steps after making contacts. 

The “holy grail” in this industry, he said, is going beyond showcasing products to generating real business for clients.

That’s what B1GTC is promising. With its model, exhibitors will pay a nominal fee for the space, but the exposition center is financially guaranteeing that sales will be generated. 

This low-risk model could help some American firms overcome their fear of exporting, said Mr. Audrain, a Manhattan-born American who retains a British accent acquired while growing up in the channel islands of the United Kingdom.

“The vast majority of American companies don’t export anyway. Even those that do want to export are fearful of China and Asia in general because it’s challenging and it’s the unknown,” he told Global Atlanta. “We believe this model will remove the fear and the risk to a large degree so they feel more comfortable about trying it.”

Mr. Audrain’s firm will also advise B1GTC on how to put on trade shows and organize exhibition spaces. 

Linyi, located in China’s Shandong province, is a major wholesale center for China, with “acres and acres” of buildings showcasing a variety of consumer goods from household products to auto parts, said Mr. Audrain, who just returned from the city a few weeks ago. He said 400,000 wholesalers trade in the city every day. 

With more than 10 million people, Linyi is located one hour by plane from Beijing and close to four major ports. It also sits on a high-speed rail line and has an inland port that can clear shipments through customs. Georgians might be interested to note that it’s not too far from Qingdao, a key tourism and economic hub that is home to the state’s new trade office in China

B1GTC is close to finishing up a buildout of its first four exhibition buildings, including one that is entirely devoted to Korean products. Now on site are an apparel mart with mostly Italian goods and a food mart where you can find diverse products like Italian pasta and Louisiana hot sauce. 

John Burke, who represents B1GTC in the United States out of Boca Raton, Fla., said guaranteeing sales at a wholesale market is unprecedented in the industry.

“No one has ever, ever gone out there and said, ‘You come, you put up an exhibit and we will guarantee you that you will get orders,’” he said.  

But he and Steven Wissinger, a Shenzhen-based businessman who previously worked in Atlanta, trust their two long-time Chinese business partners, with whom they worked for 25 years bringing Chinese products to the United States. 

Now, with the backing of an increasingly assertive Linyi city government and with China’s rising income levels, products are flowing in the opposite direction. 

“We are basically reversing the business model,” Mr. Burke said. 

Mr. Audrain also believes in the opportunity China represents, with an estimated 200 million people set to enter the middle class in the coming decades. 

“That’s the adult population of America. That’s an awfully big population to ignore,” he said. 

Linyi’s Georgia Ties

Tifton, Ga., boasts a sister-city relationship with Linyi as a result of a delegation that traveled to the south Georgia city in 2010. 

Jamie Cater, Tifton’s mayor, told Global Atlanta that the Chinese group visited the University of Georgia’s Tifton agricultural campus to explore methods for growing pecans and walnuts. A major Chinese plywood manufacturer was also represented on the trip. Mr. Cater hoped that the new relationship, sealed with meals and a gift exchange, would drum up business for local exporters of wood and food products. 

Linyi has contacted Mr. Cater each year since then to see if he might consider reciprocating the visit. 

“I told them, ‘I certainly would love to, but this economy has really affected us, and it’s affected Tifton as well. Yes, I am coming, as soon as we can afford a trip like that,’” he said.  

Visit and for more information. 

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...