Chinese investors: Here come the Canadians

By Michael Darch

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After talking and planning for nearly six months, the first major Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) mission to be undertaken by the Consider Canada City Alliance (CCCA) is underway. 20 people from eight Canadian cities and the Canadian government are gathering in China to begin a three-city onslaught to attract Chinese investment to Canada.

The path to China began in 2007 when Bruce Graham, the President of Calgary Economic Development, called together seven of his colleagues in economic development organizations across Canada for a meeting in Calgary, and the “C-8” was born.

The challenge: How do you compete effectively for foreign trade and investment in a global ecosystem that is changing rapidly, with a powerful neighbour to the South that tends to attract all the attention, an investment model that increasingly looks to cities rather than nations, and a historic business model that pits Canadian cities against each other in the quest for foreign investment?

In 2010, three more cities joined and “C-8” became “C-11”. Cooperation and collaboration became the “C” words rather than competition. The 11 cities built an increasingly close working relationship with the Canadian federal government department that handles foreign trade and investment and also built a new brand and bilingual Web site, ConsiderCanada.com. We held several joint sessions exchange lessons learned and examine the power of one unified voice over competing voices in regards to attracting foreign direct investment (FDI).

In January 2012, we made two critical decisions: We decided to incorporate as an organization called the Consider Canada City Alliance Inc. (the name was chosen in April and the incorporation completed in May). And we determined to prove that cooperation beats competition in a joint FDI mission to China – the world’s most dynamic economy and one where a cities-to-city FDI approach made sense given that China’s largest city, Chongqing, has a population that rivals the entire population of Canada’s.

I am proud to say that I am the Consider Canada City Alliance’s first operating President, with Bruce Graham as our first Chairman.

On the same day we incorporated the Consider Canada City Alliance, we released a report commissioned by the Conference Board of Canada “The Role of Canadian Large Cities in Attracting Foreign Direct Investment”. The report concludes a coordinated effort to attract FDI would benefit not only its members, but also Canada as a whole.

And here we are today, gathered in Beijing to do battle with the Americans, Aussies and Europeans to attract the mighty Yuan. As one indication of our advancement, a report released in April by the McKinsey Global Institute called “Urban America: US cities in a global economy” urges US cities to cooperate in global commerce and go out and create city to city linkages as the Chinese are beginning to do. But Canadians aren’t studying it. We are in China right now, making it happen.

Our Chinese trade mission brings eight of our cities – Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Waterloo. Plus representatives from the Federal Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada’s Invest in Canada division, and CEOs from two key sectors of interest to China (Information and Communications Technology and Clean Technology). The mission also includes legal and financing experts from Gowlings and the Toronto Stock Exchange who can expedite FDI opportunities as they arise. We are meeting our counterparts in three Chinese cities – Beijing, Chongqing and Guangzhou.

I will continue blogging about our progress in China, and want to end this post by paraphrasing Canadian singer and songwriter Leonard Cohen: “First we take Manhattan, then we take Beijing”.

Michael Darch is the founding President of Consider Canada City Alliance Inc.