3 Chinese cities in 5 days, 300 people and 200 companies: Yes, we would do it again!

By Michael Darch

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Just three months after giving the go-ahead to target China, the Consider Canada City Alliance has completed its first-ever investment mission to a foreign country.

20 Canadians travelled across most of China, visiting three cities in five days. Nearly 300 people and 200 companies attended our China-Canada Investment Opportunities seminars. Economic development executives from eight Consider Canada City Alliance members held more than 160 on-on-one meetings with Chinese companies. We had briefings from the Canadian Embassy in Beijing and our Consulates in Chongqing and Guangzhou that provided us with up to the minute intelligence on each region.

Consider Canada City Alliance team members and Chinese business executives hold business meetings in Beijing

Our Chairman Bruce Graham, who is also President of Calgary Economic Development, asked our team about the positive parts of the trip. The main point we agreed on was that we worked as a unit. The Consider Canada City Alliance along with our partners in the Federal government delivered a common message on the opportunities to invest in Canada. Occasionally there was a bit of chest thumping, but it was minimal.

We established a strong base of knowledge and marketing materials we can build on for future missions. Finally, someone finally said what we all felt: “We did it!” We were proud both of our accomplishment, and of being able to travel with such a great team of economic development professionals.

Bruce then asked us for constructive areas of improvement. First, as we travelled, it became obvious that we had two separate audiences: One was the established Chinese enterprises well prepared to invest globally. The other was small and medium enterprises, strong on technology, but not (yet) having all the managerial capability to be global. Each audience required a different approach. In the future, we would have to better segment our potential audience in terms of companies truly ready and willing to invest in a foreign operation.

We also determined to stay clear on our purpose – to attract foreign direct investment through collective activity.

Sophie Chen, a colleague of mine from my years as the Executive Director of Global Marketing at OCRI (now Invest Ottawa) quoted a Chinese proverb that goes, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.”

Sophie Chen (far left) of Invest Ottawa says goodbye to organizers in Guangdong

Renato Discenza, CEO of Invest Toronto, commented on the lack of knowledge and even misinformation on Canada that still exists in China today. He also pointed out it makes sense to use social media to communicate common messages on subjects that include immigration, Canada’s generous research and development incentive system, the ease of establishing a business, and our sectors of strength. We also agreed that further leveraging resources like our Canadian Trade Commissioner Service, Export Development Canada and the services of course the Consider Canada City Alliance will help spread the word on Canada as an investment opportunity.

Then came the big question: “Would you do it again? All eight cities and our two sponsors (Gowlings and the Toronto Stock Exchange) replied positively, the ultimate measure of success in any cooperative investment mission.

After our follow-up activity on this mission, we begin planning for the next one. Stay tuned!

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