Three hundred Chinese business people attended a high-level conference in Sheffield and were wowed by its heritage, culture - and wealth of opportunities.
Senior people from some of the country’s largest state-owned companies, investment funds and private firms attended the international Horasis China Meeting, the first time it has been held in the UK.
Hosted by the Local Enterprise Partnership at a cost of about £250,000, it was hailed a success for creating closer ties between enthusiastic would-be partners.
Vincent Zheng, partner in Shanghai-based Capital First Partners, which has $100m under management, said he was interested in luxury cutlery brands for the burgeoning middle class.
Chao Jin, of Fastway Jet in Beijing, said he was interested in new UK bases for private jets - and planned to visit Doncaster Sheffield Airport after learning it was just 30 minutes away.
He said: “I walked round Sheffield and I thought it was brilliant. Many of my friends graduated in Sheffield and I like the heritage, culture and academic atmosphere. It also sets an example for many Chinese cities for the way it has transformed itself.”
Sir Nigel Knowles said it was a high point as chair of the LEP. He persuaded Horasis founder Dr Frank-Jürgen Richter to bring the event to Sheffield after they met at the world economic forum in Davos.
He added: “I would be staggered if we didn’t get some materially positive developments out of this.
“We have been asked for details of construction and housing projects, nuclear projects, a huge range.
“I fully expect academic collaboration, joint ventures, knowledge transfer partnerships, commercial relationships and investment to come out of this gathering. The enthusiasm and commitment has been terrific.
“I was asked to do this job to raise the profile of Sheffield City Region around the world and this is the evidence I’m doing that.”
Those attending included Xu Jin, minister counsellor, UK Embassy of China and Xiong Meng, executive vice chairman, China Federation of Industrial Economics.
CITY CAN BE A WORLDWIDE ROLL MODEL
Horasis was a success because Sheffield is a role model for some Chinese.
That’s according to founder Dr Frank-Jürgen Richter who said more than 300 delegates attended because Sheffield was a centre for Chinese investment, it was business friendly and a key part of the Northern Powerhouse.
He added: “The response from China has been amazing. They want to discover more about Sheffield’s transformational story from the steel city to a green, ‘smart’ city of innovation.
“The Chinese are looking for role models.”
Property developer Jerry Cheung attracted Chinese money to build the £65m New Era ‘Chinatown’ which is under construction in Sheffield. He said Horasis was perfect for finding people who could benefit from CUBI, the China UK business incubator which will be part of the development.
David Smith, chief executive of the Local Enterprise Partnership which co-hosted the event, said it was the “first international business-to-business conference at this level in the UK.”
And they would look to do another, possibly with India.
He added: “It’s the best way to create deals. People are talking - we just provided the space to let that happen.
“Inevitably there is a risk when you do something new, but the business community saw the importance of reaching out to their counterparts.”
The two-day event took place at Sheffield City Hall and included dinners at the Cutlers’ Hall and Sheffield Cathedral and a trip to Chatsworth House.
It was supported by Sheffield’s two universities, Visit England and the Department for International Trade.
BREXIT IS A POSTIVE MOVE FOR CHINESE
From a Chinese perspective Brexit is a positive move, delegates heard in a debate at the Horasis conference.
Chinese business people are more interested by the UK’s influence with the rest of the world and its experience of trading with the US, Brazil and the former Commonwealth, according to Paul Taylor, chief advisor at Zhuzhou CRRC Times Electric.
The panel on the ‘Investing in the UK’ debate in the Irwin Mitchell Oval Hall said the top pledges of certainty they wanted as Brexit approached were a two to three-year transitional trade agreement, which included customs, and residence for Europeans living in the UK and working for UK companies.
Julie Kenny, who founded and 31 years later sold, Rotherham electronics firm Pyronix, said she started selling into China in the early 1990s. In the early 2000s she entered into a joint venture with a Chinese manufacturer and would visit the Chinese factory monthly.
Her experience of trading with the country was a help when it took 11 months to sell to a Chinese firm.
She said: “By then I understood how the Chinese worked.”
For Chinese investors, association with a British brand could be very powerful, she added.
Sir Nigel Knowles, chair of the Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “Sheffield City Region has a shared heritage of learning and resilience with China, so Horasis China really is the right conference, in the right place, at the right time. It is at the start of a highly-focused approach to our trade and investment strategies to create jobs and growth.”