Hong Kong isn’t content to be an observer when it comes to biotechnology.

The Chinese city and special administrative region followed the lead of Asian nations like Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, switching from an attendee to exhibitor this year, said Ken K.N. Hui, vice president of marketing for Hong Kong Science & Technology Parks.

Seven Hong Kong companies and economic development organizations occupied booths at the premier biotechnology event, which was held in Atlanta May 18-21. 

Duncan Pescod, Hong Kong’s permanent secretary for commerce and economic development, led the delegation.

The enormity of the conference – which drew thousands of attendees from about 60 countries – shows that biotech companies have ample places to locate around the globe, and Hong Kong is trying to set itself apart, Mr. Pescod told GlobalAtlanta in an interview.

Because land and office space are expensive in the densely populated city, Hong Kong is encouraging high-tech companies to do research and development in science and technology parks there, he said.

Hong Kong Science & Technology Parks is a government-funded enterprise that operates much like a private non-profit group, Mr. Pescod said.

For established companies and educational institutions, the parks offer laboratories, office space and industrial facilities at competitive rates so organizations can quickly connect with the city’s well-established science and technology infrastructure, Mr. Pescod said.

The facility also has a full-service business incubator to help science and technology startups get up and running.

If state-of-the-art facilities aren’t enough to sway biotech companies, Hong Kong has another advantage that other locations don’t – easy access to a burgeoning health care market in mainland China and expertise on how to do business there, Mr. Pescod said.

“What Hong Kong offers is 30 years of working with China, developing our contacts and understanding the methodology that is necessary to succeed in China, and U.S. companies can learn from that,” he said.

This will be extremely important for companies in the near future as China’s government and private sector ramp up medical spending, said Mr. Hui of Hong Kong Science & Technology Parks.

In April, the Chinese government unveiled a plan to spend $120 billion by 2020 to revamp its health care system by building hospitals and medical clinics and by subsidizing insurance plans that provide basic services for nearly all of its citizens, according to news reports.

Mr. Pescod said foreign companies setting up in Hong Kong can take advantage of the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement, or CEPA, a trade agreement that gives Hong Kong companies duty-free access to the mainland, and vice versa.

The agreement has been updated six times since its inception in 2003, reflecting its importance for both sides, Mr. Pescod said.

Despite its bout with the SARS outbreak earlier this decade and reports that a Taiwanese minister and two Chinese leaders have canceled trips to Atlanta in recent weeks over swine flu concerns, Hong Kong officials braved a trip to North America because of the importance of making face-to-face contact with key players and prospects in biotechnology, he added.

“We must be engaged in international commerce, we must be engaged in international trade, we must be engaged in international idea exchange, and that’s why we’re here,” Mr. Pescod said.

Hong Kong has reported four confirmed cases of swine flu.

Mr. Pescod said the city “doesn’t mess around” with infectious diseases since the SARS outbreak, when the disease spread from one patient all around the world in just 10 days.

When Hong Kong officials identified the index patient in their city, they contacted everyone that had traveled with him or had otherwise encountered him, including taxi drivers and hotel personnel.  About 300 people were placed under quarantine.

“We are the most densely populated city in the world and disease can spread very quickly if you’re not prepared,” Mr. Pescod said.

That said, economic development must go on.

“If you’re too scared to travel, you’re not doing yourself justice,” he said.

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...